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Dike Chukwumerije

Dike Chukwumerije.

Chukwumerije is a 28-year old Nigerian, currently living in the U.K. He comes from a family of eight and spent his early years in Lagos, Nigeria. As a child, his father was a magazine editor and he grew up reading stories and poems written by my elder brother. He soon started writing in his own right. His goal is to change the self-perception of Africans through his writings.

 Bus 73
It’s raining. The kind of rain you can’t shield yourself from. But people in the street are holding up umbrellas. He stares at them from the window. His eyes wander up and down the street. But they return again and again to the bus stand below him. The 73 is just pulling in, on its way to Seven Sisters. He glances at his watch. It is not this 73 he is waiting for.

He turns away from the window and grabs his jacket. Why are you excited? His thoughts sound like a voice in his head. It had been the same every evening, since the first evening four days ago. He stands at the window for fifteen minutes after his day is over. Then, he grabs his jacket and dashes out — his heart beating with excitement.

It’s colder than he thought it would be. He pulls the collar up to his neck, walking quickly to the bus shelter. There is a small crowd waiting. He wonders if anyone else is waiting for the same reasons as he is. He glances up at the electronic display. Bus 73 is two minutes away.

Islington High Street is throbbing with the weary heart of home-bound workers. But it is also stirring for the night; for a Friday night. Across the road, there is a dark shadow over the entrance to the tube station as people surge in and surge out. The electronic display says Bus 73 is due.

It appears, turning out of a side street, a long, red worm with black joints. The crowd begins to quiver faintly as everyone jostles for a good position. Some people move closer to the curb. Others widen their shoulders to prevent those behind them from getting into the bus first. He walks towards the bus. He aims to get in through the back doors.

When the doors open, he is right in front of them. He moves inside and leans against the window. Others pour in, devouring every inch of standing space. He knows where she is seating. If he hadn’t seen her through the window he would have waited for the next 73.

She keeps looking out of the window but her thoughts are staring in the other direction. From her work place she had scrambled across the road to the mouth of King’s Cross Station to catch the bus. Riding up Pentonville Road, it seemed to her like the driver knew — like every driver on the road knew — and was taking the piss. Every car crawled. Every light was red for an eternity.

She read familiar signs off the side of the road and wondered if this was healthy. It began as an interesting distraction on the long journey. What was it now? Worrying. But still she had peered through the window as the bus came down Islington High Street. It would either be a brown or a grey jacket, standing at the tail end of the crowd. Today, it had been the grey jacket.

He wonders what she is thinking. He has not yet glanced at her. Is she tired — after a day managing the floor staff at Debenhams? — A successful, career woman — I can tell. He is talking to himself again. From the way she looked out of the window, with total disinterest, the one time our eyes met. Like she was pre-occupied with more pressing things. Like she saw me and, at the same time, did not see me. I could have been anything.

It was the way he had looked at her that first time that stopped her in her tracks. It had been the same as always. Nothing on her mind. Hour after hour handing out burgers over a plastic counter emptied your mind. She was seeing nothing and thought of sleeping. Then, his eyes pierced through the darkness, through the window. I know you. That was what her heart had said in response.

She has not yet turned away from the window to look in his direction. I wonder what he’s thinking? She plays cat-and-mouse in her head. He’s looking at you right now, wondering how he can introduce himself. Is that right? I wager he’s thinking of the deal he has to close tomorrow in the office. Didn’t you see his poise? He didn’t slouch like those hood rats sticking people up for their mobile phones. You can tell from the way he walked into the bus. He’s going somewhere.

I think his jacket is a bit faded though. He might be a druggie. Druggies don’t have clear, black eyes that pierce through the darkness. Serial rapists do. It is not a safe world. I agree. It is a dangerous world.

Very true. There’s nothing more dangerous; more dangerous than…love? He wonders if he has already gone too far. Love? A mental obsession with a stranger on a crowded bus — love? No. Let me stick with easier labels — infatuation. Still, it was dangerous. She cannot know that I am a rare breed. She has nice tits, I know but I haven’t been dreaming of them. Just a quiet table at Starbucks.

The bus stops. He turns now and looks at her. She is looking at the new crowd coming through the doors. She does have nice tits. It had been the first thing he noticed about her; that she wore no rings. But, these days, it meant nothing. How many fresh faced teenagers walked past him every day with swollen tummies? She could have a “partner”, waiting at home — a man, a woman. Who knows? Even a dog she had taught to do things to her. The world was a sick place.

He looks away again as the door shuts and the bus moves on. She turns her head slightly. Look at him, standing over there, with his shoulder against the window and his hands in his pocket. Who stands in a bus like that? Like an eagle in the midst of crows; tall and straight where everyone else is slouching. I don’t think he’s a serial rapist. There’s no way you can know that. I wonder why he hasn’t looked at me even once. Because you are not the only one on this bus. But…No “buts”. Go to sleep. End this foolishness.

She ignores the stern voice in her head. There was nothing else to do anyway. Outside, the same blurred darkness slides past, punctuated by the same neon lights, the same road signs, the same brown buildings. The man beside her yawns and his breath stinks. For a second, she suffocates, trying not to inhale the smell. Why couldn’t people who wouldn’t brush their teeth keep their mouths shut? There was nothing else to do.

I’ll imagine his day. He lives in a studio flat with a fitted kitchen. I don’t think so. I say he lives above a music shop, in a bed sitter with broken windows, over looking Stoke Newington High Street. And what if he does? Do lakes stay frozen all year? Men have seasons too. I don’t mind an eaglet.

I have seen his shoulders. They stretch his jacket. He is the athletic type. I say, he’s too poor to buy the right size. She chuckles to herself. No. He works out. I’ve seen the spring in his step. It’s probably why he doesn’t look tired on the evening bus. Maybe, it’s because he slept all day and is on his way to stand with folded arms and a mean look in front of a club in downtown Hackney. She laughs again. The man beside her looks at her through the corner of his eyes. Mind your business, you foul-mouthed bastard. That’s exactly what she thinks. A black woman laughs to herself on a bus and you give her “the eye”.

She’s black. So? She looks really black. What does that mean? He asks himself. I think there’s a…militancy about her. That’s a racist thought. So, sue me. He imagines her at the table at his mum’s for Christmas dinner. Would it work? Nobody said anything out loud these days but…well…there was still an uncomfortable silence. What if she was from some obscure country in Africa? He was not the kind of man that was enthralled by the “exotic”. He had been to France, once, that was it.

So, why am I here, in this place, daydreaming about her? Maybe, it was curiosity, after all. Maybe, beneath his studied piety he just wanted to know the feel of a black woman. He had only heard stories. They don’t just lie back. There’s more to hold unto, more to feel. That’s a racist thought.

He could be a racist, like this squinty-eyed man beside her. She had lived here long enough to discern the discrimination. It had been nothing more than a glance but she knew it was meant to convey a slight irritation with her loud chuckles. Why don’t you look at that woman over there jabbering away on her mobile phone in the same way? She looks back at him with a slight scowl. He looks away.

He could be a racist. Are you not one yourself? She had never dated a white man. What would I do with him? She always asked her friends. That was what made all this all the more interesting. It’s curious that I’m sitting here, fantasizing about a white man. I believe in signs. Maybe, it’s a sign. Maybe, it’s the fever you had last week, screwing your head over. She laughs again and this time she makes no effort to be modest. She dares the squinty-eyed man with bad breath to scowl at her again. He doesn’t. He pretends to be asleep.

I wonder why she’s laughing to herself? She heard you sigh when you looked at her. She knows what you’re thinking. He steals a glance. She’s still staring out of the window. The same air of total disinterest surrounds her. She looks regal, like a queen. She is beautiful; too beautiful to be guessing at what I’m thinking. He is looking at her now, properly. I don’t think there’s a militancy to her. She looks vulnerable, like any woman. Suddenly, his heart yearns to know who she is.

What’s your name? She tinkers with possibilities in her head. I think he looks like a Mark. Or a Freddie. A man with a common name. White people didn’t have philosophical sentences for names; names that needed explanation. I wonder if I would like his name. If it would fit in my mouth.

Has it occurred to you that he might not be single? I’m just keeping myself busy on a long bus ride. There’s no way I’m hooking up with a strange man on a bus. The world is a dangerous place. Leave me alone to fantasize. What am I going home to? Stale milk in the fridge.

I don’t want to think about it. Tumi used to leave his stuff lying all over the place. She complained but, secretly, she liked coming home to find proof that she was not alone. But Tumi said she was too “traditional”. That’s the problem with you people that grew up in the motherland — too conservative. There are no virgins on this side of the ocean.

I’m not a virgin. She wanted to tell him. I was raped when I was sixteen. When you put me on my back and raise yourself above me, I feel terrified. But she didn’t. If you love me — that was all she said — you wouldn’t force me. Tumi left. Arsehole. I don’t want to think about Tumi.

She looks so peaceful, starring out of the window. I know — he says to himself — there’s a warm home at the end of the bus ride. There’s too much peace on her face. She is satisfied with love. It’s not a dog she’s going home to. Let me imagine it. He’s home already, waiting for her. When she comes through the door, he will pull her into his arms and kiss her. Children? Maybe, one — a girl with plaited hair — on her elbows in front of the T.V. Hello mummy, the girl says, without looking up.

I don’t like this picture. I’ll imagine another one. It is not peace that’s on her face, it’s dissatisfaction. That’s why she keeps looking out of the window of her existence. She feels trapped in her own journey. She is looking for peace. She is looking for love. For someone she can ride the bus with. Someone that won’t hurt her. I like this picture. I am the one who turns her face from the window. I sit by her side and I say — hello.

That’s what I’m looking for in a man. Tumi was a wretch. I’m looking for…What are you looking for? The bus stops. The doors open. People come in, people get off. The door shuts. The bus lurches and moves on. She stares, then she thinks — I’m looking for someone I can ride the bus with.

Exactly! These are his thoughts. There are moments of excitement but is this not life? That’s exactly what I’m looking for. Not the howling insanity of passion. Too intense. I just don’t want to feel that I love you, I want to know it. I want to stare out of the window with you and see the passing darkness the way you see it. Share life.

She sighs. Men are not made like this. They do not appreciate the journey. They sit at the edges of their seat, wanting only to get to their destination. They cannot see the shapes you see in the blurred darkness sliding past. And when you tell them your thoughts, they always try to complete it. They do not appreciate the journey.

I am becoming much more melancholic than I care to be right now. I told you I didn’t want to think about Tumi. Leave me alone, let me fantasize about this stranger that I stare at with my thoughts. I wonder what he is doing at this very moment. Let me look. She turns her head casually, then turns back to the window. Interesting — he is looking at me.

She looked at me! I stared too hard. She turned and looked at me. Or did she? He is no longer sure. She turned and looked around. Her eyes swept over me. She did not look at me. Or did she not? He thinks of walking over to her. But, what would he do? He could not talk to her over the head of the man slouched in the seat beside her. It just isn’t my style to entertain a whole bus while trying to chat up a girl. She did not look at me.

Why was he looking at me? He wasn’t looking…Don’t tell me that! I saw him. He wasn’t looking at you. What was he doing then? He was looking in your direction. Oh…You should have left me in my delusion. I liked the thought. Let me follow it. He was looking at me because he finds me attractive. At the next stop, the man seating next to me would get off and he would come over and sit down. I wouldn’t look. I’ll just keep looking out of the window. But, he will bend over slightly and say — hello.

If only the seat beside her was empty at this moment. I feel like I could do it now. Not in five minutes. Now. The bus stops. The man sitting beside her looks out of the window. Then, he struggles to his feet and gets off the bus. Other people get on. The doors close. The bus moves on.

If he comes and sits beside me, I will know that he was looking at me. I will know that it’s a sign.

If she turns again now and looks at me, I will know I was not imagining it. I will go and sit beside her.

A young lady with a brown bag slides into the seat. She does not look away from the window. She can see the lady’s reflection in the glass. It’s a sign. I am going too far with all this. I must end this foolishness. She leans her head backwards and shuts her eyes.

I feel like destiny just got off the bus. He watches her sleeping. I must end this foolishness. He looks out of the window and sees his own familiar darkness. If he gets off at the next stop he could walk up the hill to Lynn’s flat. They were no longer together but, sometimes, they acted like they were. I know I shouldn’t. He had decided two weeks ago that he wouldn’t any longer.

Let’s not. He said to Lynn, speaking against her lips. Let’s not. Or, we would never move on. The sex was invigorating but it left him drained immediately afterwards. It was like an addiction that he hated — the body of a woman he loathed. Lynn is a selfish bitch. Those are his exact thoughts. I know she’s only using me. But my body will not listen to my mind. I am a fool.

The bus stops. His member swells. Get off. Walk up the hill to Lynn. You need comforting. There’s something perverse about it — expiating your desire for one woman in the arms of another. No. The doors close. The bus moves on. He is limp again and his forehead is damp. He slumps slightly against the window and shuts his eyes.

Sleep did not come. After watching a different darkness, the one behind her eye lids, she raises her head and glances at him. What happened to the eagle? It has slouched into a crow — a grey, weary crow. I wonder who has broken his heart? Maybe, he is just like me; dreading the end of the bus ride, going home to an apartment where the lights never come on unless you touch the switch.

I think aloneness is a ghost. It doesn’t scare you during the day, when you are out and about, when nothing lies in the shadows. You think of an empty flat then and it even seems inviting. But at night, the ghost assumes its terror. You don’t want to see it. I wish I had somewhere else to go tonight. I am lonely.

I told you I didn’t want to think about Tumi. Now, I cannot shake off this melancholy. I am not a sad person. I don’t like my job but it pays the rent. It tides me over while I study. I have hopes. I have friends and, on Sundays, I teach the kids in church. I am not a sad person.

I feel sad. He opens his eyes. I should have gotten off and gone up to Lynn, postponed my sadness for the night. But he knows he did the right thing. Already, his conscience is sprinkling strength over his heart. Lynn is a drunken stupor, a hazy room. My lungs are bursting for fresh air. Someone who likes kids. Someone who likes me. I haven’t said a prayer in a long time. Internet dating had thrown up lots of freaks. Maybe, it was time to pray again.

He laughs to himself. I don’t think to pray for children starving in far away countries. It’s not funny. There are really children starving in far away countries. Here I am, pining for love when someone is hoping for food. I’ll say my first prayer in….a long time — God, help the poor. It sounds strange to think a prayer. He looks out the window and the darkness looks back at him. God, help me. I am tired of the emptiness.

I shouldn’t have thought of Lynn. I shouldn’t have reminded myself how shallow my life is. I live in a studio flat with a fitted kitchen. I earn more money than I need. I am the picture of a successful person. I am not real. What I really want to do is — tell Lynn that she’s a bitch. Start my own business. Tell Lynn that she’s a bitch. Walk over to the black woman staring out of the window and ask her for her name.

I wonder how my name would sound on his lips. She shakes her head at the persistence of her obsession. I must be lonelier than I thought. I wonder how my name would sound on his lips. Most probably, he would draw it out, misplace the intonations. I’ll teach him. My man must call my name right. I can’t have him calling me a flea bag instead of a precious stone. Different intonation, different meaning.

That’s what I fear about being with a white person; the nuances I would have to enjoy alone, the shaded meanings I would have to explain. She feels like she is talking out loud. And the music. Would he understand the drums? What would she do if he could not dance with his waist? This is madness, all these thoughts. But she found it interesting, talking to this white man in her head.

Can you dance with your waist? She asks him. No. Then, what good are you to me? You know how you always wished that Tumi would be the first to reach for your hand when you were in public — that’s what he says in her head — I will. She looks at him sceptically. If I will be all those things Tumi was not, will you have me? She thinks about it for a second then she says — Yes.

I wonder if she would have me. He looks at her. She is awake again, looking out the window. I wonder if she would deserve me; I have so much to say, so much to share. Are they not all like Lynn? They are not. He remembers Sarah. Sarah was not like Lynn. He remembers Sarah, with shame. With Sarah, I was the vulture, I was like Lynn. It is the wheel that has brought retribution. I have paid for my sins, he thinks. No more.

I would have you, yes, if you are not a vulture. If you are not looking to watch me die and feed off my flesh. She looks at her face in the glass. I would have you if you are a gardener with tender hands and you understand that I am a rose, or a daffodil. I will always want attention. Not just for one or two weeks. Always.

She smiles at herself in the glass. Then she thinks — yes, I would have him, just as he is, if he is a gardener with tender hands. But, will he have me? He will see a black woman. He will see the distance, the disinterest, I wrap like a shawl over my soul. When he tries to come near, he will see my lips curl in what would seem like disapproval. He will try to put me on my back and terrify me. I will push him away. I will say — No. Will he have me?

Sarah was a good girl. Now, I know. She wasn’t an adrenaline rush or a wild night out. She was solid ground. I could have built a home on her. Putting her hand in my trousers wasn’t her way of saying hello. I thought she was dull. I was a fool. Thirty minutes with Lynn seemed more exciting. Now, I know. There are scattered moments of excitement. In between, is life.

I have very little demands now. I don’t want Lynn. Simple. I don’t care if you can’t light up the night or heat up the party. I don’t care if you don’t wear clothes that leave half your bum hanging out. Can you light a candle in the darkness? It’s enough for me.

If his needs are real, I will be perfect. She looks past her image in the glass, focusing on the passing darkness. If he wants a real person; someone that doesn’t start and stop with the flick of a switch. If he wants meaning. If he wants commitment. Let me see — how would I describe myself? I am not a comet. I am not a tsunami. I am more ordinary. I am the earth. More precious.

Then, I will have you — he thinks to himself — every last square inch of precious dirt. It wouldn’t matter if you stuck out at mum’s dinner table. I would have you, if you are like Sarah — solid ground.

My face looks so peaceful in the glass. She looks into her eyes. I look like a princess. I look like a fortress, impregnable, self-sufficient, unapproachable. I should not look so unlike what I am. How will he know that I am searching for him if he does not see the question in my eyes? But, if I hang out the banners, the vultures will come also. Another Tumi would empty my heart. Rather this torment than that. Suddenly, she feels tired of the bus ride. I want to get home.

I feel like destiny just jumped off the bus. I will never get to know her. Tomorrow…No, tomorrow is Saturday. When the week comes again, I will not wait for this 73. It is madness to look so far over the fence.

The bus stops. She grabs her bag by its strap and slides out of her seat. He does not look at her until she steps off the bus. She hesitates then turns. Their eyes meet. The doors close. The bus lurches and moves on.

C’est la vie.

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