On the last day of work before the August vacation, a lady friend visited his office. The lady was to travel abroad in few days for a literary course.
She didn’t come all the way to the Island to bid him goodbye — they weren’t as close. She only came to drop off a bag of books. Another friend of theirs had obliged her to drop the bag with him before leaving for her two-year creative writing program in faraway United States of America.
The reason behind doing that was this: Their third friend, who owned the books, and had borrowed them to the lady, was not in town to have his books back. While he could be reached before two years, the lady friend would not smell the shores of the country in that time period. So it was logical, he surmised, that the books were left with him if their third friend would ever wish to have his books back. He only happened to be the closest possible option for the books retainability in the country.
In any case, he welcomed the books with open arms. He was a lover of books. The books were like the icing on the cake of his vacation; a further assurance that he was going to have an amazing August break.
Even when he already knew the books must be important to have belonged to their third friend, he couldn’t wait to take a look at their titles for a confirmation. Indeed they were important. Meeting his expectations were: The 2015 edition of The Best American Short Stories (BASS), edited by Michael Chabon; Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides; The Brief Wonderful Life of Oscar Wao (which he knew but hadn’t yet read), Junot Diaz; and The New York Trilogy, Paul Austers.
He quickly packed the books back into the bag and started a countdown to the closing hour of the day. Time and again he feared the third friend would pop in before the closing hour and make demands for his books. The third friend never made an appearance; neither did he call to ask if the books had been dropped. He didn’t put a call through to the third friend either. Instead, he waited the time out to run home with his loot. Soon, the hour did come and as though he had honey in his belly, he went home happy with all four volumes.
It wasn’t that he had no books in his house — he had lots of them, some of which he hadn’t read — but new titles were like newly paved routes of escape for him; newly found roads to journey away from the self, away from the presence, away from immediate realities. And even if he wasn’t taking the new roads just yet, knowing they existed and were within reach gave him as much solace. He had always loved these sorts of journeys in their varieties of forms, as many of the roads he could lay his feet on.
But few days before he left for the said August break, he had fallen in love with a girl, who had refused to have an idea how he felt. And that was one hell of a reality quite uneasy to tear oneself away from. So for the first week he couldn’t read a page from any book; couldn’t run all the beautiful roads calling him from the designs of back covers. Nothing interested him than to keep telling his newly found love how much he would love to love her. Time was going. His precious holiday had gone a week without starting on what he had intended it for. Soon he knew he had to back-off from loving this girl and start his break in earnest. But then he couldn’t just latch on the words in a book and expect to be carried away in a sudden. He knew to pull this love feeling away, he needed something as strong: he knew he needed to have good sex.
So he called a girl who had wanted to pay him a visit. The visitation happened the next day. But the highest he could go with her was to squeeze her hairy grape-sized breast in his palms. She had allowed him suck the breasts, too, but never allowed him sex. It was a frustrating encounter for him. After the girl had left, he picked strands of hair between his teeth, hairs his mouth had plucked from sucking those breasts. He cursed from the irritation the exercise gave him, picking them as though they were remains of meat after a sumptuous meal.
He still needed the breakaway, now with a slight sense of urgency. And to keep falling in love with a fool had become a more unfavorable option, he thought aloud while taking a shower one afternoon.
Two days later, one of his few admirers reached him via Whatsapp. She lived in the Eastern part of the country. She had reached out to tell him she was coming to town. She would be visiting her uncle in the city. This news from the blues gave him a relief. He thought this must be the break his body had so much anticipated, the experience his blood had been boiling for. The lady was spending a few days in the city. He scheduled their meeting to be at his place of course. But again, when she came, the highest he could go was to the breasts. They, however, weren’t grape-sized this time; they weren’t hairy either. They were full-blown smooth and succulent pair. They were magic. They pleased him greatly from merely squeezing them, but he couldn’t have cum just by folding the lovelies, not even when he was allowed to kiss them.
With the promise of making it to his place some other time in September and giving him all he wanted, his visitant from the East parted him with a long mouth-to-mouth kiss. He believed her then and let her go, the memory of her body in his palms. There’s something about ladies you knew not seeming it respectable to offer their bodies on their first visit. He felt her decisions were fair enough, but the admission of the excuse was harder on him. His blood became hotter.
The second week was running to an end and he hadn’t yet started his August break as planned: he hadn’t read a line from any book or added a word more to many of his unfinished projects. Meanwhile, electricity in his area had been gone now for four consecutive days. His phone had ran down after two days of the incursion. His laptop, which now served as the alternate power-supply device to his phone was running down on battery, too. He didn’t own a generator set out of principle: climate change; and getting his phone charged from the neighbor’s generators gave him a great deal of displeasance; a sense of betrayal as if he was the one running the generator himself. So, in time, all the electronics in his house became as dead as cold steel. He couldn’t chat on social media anymore, not to talk of finding a way to lure another lady to visit. Gradually, as the days passed, devoid of electricity, devoid of inspiration, the heat in his blood calmed. He could now allow his eyes wander the spines of books waiting on his shelf.
Presently, he picked on a couple of short stories from the BASS. He particularly liked NATASHA by David Bezmogis. It was a story of how a sixteen-year old lad struggled to make sense of his summer break, and how the visitation of a fourteen-year old girl from Russia had made the whole event of that holiday most complicated. Books, Sex, August, and Escape were repeatedly mentioned in the story. Somehow he felt it was the story for the moment for him; some narrative that spoke indirectly to him. And at the end, when the protagonist in the story set to give all the people he had known a Civilized Murder as against going out there with a gun on them, he thought he found the right term to use for the girl he had fallen in love with and the ones who had refused him sex. “You are hereby murdered. All of you!” He addressed the faces of the girls in his head. It had meant to mean every one of them no longer existed in his mind.
It was when he began reading the very long short-story Stone Animals by Kelly Link that he started thinking of his unfinished novel. Stone Animal was the sort of story that left an after-taste in the palette of the mind. He brooded at every turn of a page, thinking about what he just read and flashing his mind on one occasion or the other to his own novel. Usually, when thoughts came on his novel like that, he put his laptop on and gave the story a touch here and there. But now he couldn’t get to the story because the laptop was dead. So he started writing something else with a pen in his diary, an exercise he hadn’t practiced in a long while. And when it occurred to him that he thought faster than he wrote, missing a letter or two on regular words, he simply smiled and muttered to himself: these things are messing with our minds. He meant the different modern devices we use in everyday writings must truly be negatively interfering with the art of putting pen to paper.
As he wrote, part of his thought still with the unfinished novel, he was getting disturbed that there was one too many occasions of death in his novel. It was supposed to be a story experimenting on African spiritualism; about a girl who ran away from what was left of her home, believing that a mysterious death was on her wake. But likening his protagonist to that of Colson Whiteheads* The Underground Railroad gave him some sort of solace. Cora, The Underground Railroad heroine, possessed a ferocious spirit bent on destroying everyone — both good and evil — as she escaped slavery on her path to freedom. Cora had a whole community of people brutally disintegrated in death and losses. A few couple of death credited to his own heroine shouldn’t, in all fairness, trouble anyone.
At the end of the day, he figured out a possible ending for his novel while writing what would become another short story. This pleased him greatly since he had been finding a way to end the narrative for quite a long while.
The next morning, having seemed to trace his way back to the original plan for his holiday, and now feeling fit as a fiddle, a sense of satisfaction buoyed in his spirit to go to the beach and walk along the cresting of water, the rising and falling of waves, feel the unrestricted air hit his face, and hear the roaring bellows of the sea as it hits the shores on a sunny afternoon. It was a way to properly welcome oneself back into one’s skin.
To the beach, he could choose the short or the long route. If it had not been that an ex-girlfriend lived on one of the streets on the shorter route, he wouldn’t have to think about which way to take. But now he stood affront the gate of his house and gave it a thorough thought. Soon he decided and turned left to follow the back of his house as against turning right to follow the sandy road that burst to the main street, which was the longer route. He thought it through on his way as he walked: his relationship with the ex-girlfriend didn’t end on a heated note; it had rather ended amicably. And so his fear wasn’t the animosity seeing her again could revive, but how easily they could get back together if coincidentally they both happened to be in their pleasant moods. Needless to say, that their relationship, at the time it was on, had come with its own troubles; troubles he couldn’t imagine going through all over again. But then he quickly countered the thought of accidentally seeing his ex-girlfriend: the tendency of finding her outside her house was very slim. Why would she sit out in the street anyways? Moreover, he planned making his way past there as fast as he could.
But when he turned into the street, to his absolute shock, it was as though they had preplanned a rendezvous. His ex-girlfriend was right in front of her house, alone, under the small non-fruiting tree he had always known times he used to visit her in her home. He immediately noticed she hadn’t seen him coming and briefly thought to turn around. But what if she caught a back view of him running away like a frightened animal? He didn’t want to look a coward — or so he thought the reason for maintaining his pace on the street was.
As he walked, each step getting him closer to where she sat, he thought, but what might she be doing outside, her two legs folded sideways and crossed at the ankles as though she was just one of many others sitting in a hall of a seminar. Her head bowed to the same side as the legs. At first, from the distance, she seemed lost in thought. But the casual way she had turned her head to see him coming showed she was very much present in her vicinity.
Later on in their chit-chat, when he asked, she said she didn’t have any reason to step out and sit there, but that if she was to give it a conscious scrutiny now, might be she was out for the sun. They both laughed. She said she had been out for less than five minutes, and had been thinking to go back in when she saw him.
As they exchange a bye-for-now hug, he felt his blood rising hot along the veins. It was the very familiar smell of her. He felt to have her in his arms right away.
Soon he was back on his way to the beach, leaving her behind with her sun. But not after he had arranged for her to visit him later that evening. As he walked the short street, determining not to turn around and take a glance at her, he felt her eyes digging at his behind.
At the beach, he caught the breeze; caught the roaring sound of the sea; caught a couple of rays from her sun. He had come along with a book. He fetched the book from his knapsack, laid his back bare on the sand and placed the book on his belly. The book, rising and falling with his breath, flew open to several pages by the power of the breeze. But he was not interested feeding on the words in the pages, his mind was no longer where he was. Thereafter, when he got back home, and she visited later that night as planned, the visitation was all he had hoped it would be and more.