Updated: May 29
Praise Osawaru (he/him) is a writer of Bini descent. A Best of the Net nominee, his work appears or is forthcoming in FIYAH, The Hellebore, Frontier Poetry, Rigorous Magazine, Lit Quarterly, and Roadrunner Review, among others. He was a finalist for the 2020 Jack Grapes Poetry Prize and the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize 2020, and he is a recipient of the NF2W Poetry Scholarship. He is a reader for both, Barren Magazine and Chestnut Review, and he is on Instagram & Twitter: @wordsmithpraise.
“What do you see when we die…?” – Olaitan Junaid.
Deba stares at the purple sky as he floats in the green water pool. He can’t explain a lot of things. Like why the place has two low-lying suns, yet the wind carries a softhearted chill. The kind that sails the surface of one’s skin and instills a maddening pleasure, like spilled honey on the tongue. This place is their safe space – where Deba and Olaitan can be themselves, freely. A closeted corner of the world, far from the world. Far from the prying eyes and blading tongues and hands curled like ropes around their necks.
Deba discovered this place some months ago while riding his bike. It was as if the universe compelled him to find it. He departed his home late evening in his favorite blue hood. Told his mom he wanted to take a lap around, see some places in Ijoro. Not that he had any idea where he intended to go, he just rode. And suddenly, he found himself in the woods, environed by greens and sounds of birds flying through the sky. There, a light blue line hovered in the air amid a clump of trees. He motioned closer, dropping his bike on the ground. He felt an unexplainable pull, and he drew closer and closer. Till he was amid the trees, staring at a neat vertical line; a cut in the air.
He gasped, tripping on wet soil. Throwing himself up, he wiped his hands on his pants and dipped a hand into the cut. He pulled it back, nothing happened. Then he walked in. His body slumped down on the ground. He opened his eyes and found himself there, in a pocket dimension, or so. He wasn’t sure. When he met Olaitan, he immediately showed Olaitan the place, and it became their getaway.
Here, they are just two people.
Deba inhales, flapping his hands in the water. He swims toward Olaitan, whose eyes are sealed. Olaitan lies by the poolside, palms locked underneath his head.
“It’s almost time to go,” Deba breathes.
“Can’t we stay longer just for a minute?”
“Are you seriously suggesting that?” Deba shoots.
“I’ve been thinking for a while now, and I was just wondering. What if we stayed? What if we remained here? I mean, the world doesn’t want us. People will throw stones at us and burn us at the square for hell’s sake. I don’t understand why we keep returning.”
“I know. I love it here, too. But we can’t just abandon our lives because some people think we’re inhuman, abnormal, or not worthy of the same air they breathe. We prove that we’re human by waking up every day and being ourselves,” Deba responds, pulling himself out of the water. “Someday, normal won’t be not being ourselves.”
Olaitan stands, gawking at the purple sky, exhaling. Deba attempts to walk toward the cut and prepares himself to return to his body. Just then, Olaitan lunges forward, throwing his hands around him.
“I’m so sorry.”
“No. Don’t do this! We’ll be stuck here forever!” Deba screams, falling to the ground.
The first time they came together and stayed for over three hours, they almost died. This place has a rule – don’t overstay your welcome.
Deba struggles to breathe, his dark skin turning into a pale cream color. It’s happening. Any minute longer and he won’t be able to return to the real world.
“I’m sorry. Let’s stay here together,” Olaitan says from behind, arms wrapped around Deba.
Deba gasps, shuts his eyes, and yells, throwing his head backward, hitting Olaitan’s face. Olaitan shrieks, releasing his grip over him. Deba leaps to his feet, drags Olaitan by his arm, and lobs him into the portal. Then he runs, diving in.
They open their eyes. An elderly man stands before them, a large brown hat on his head.
“Now what are you boys doing lying in the woods, alone?”
“We were just—”
“Just checking out the soil. We’ll be on our way now,” Deba replies, gesturing to Olaitan with a wave of his hand.
The man stares at them, his eyes thinned. He watches them walk away until they are beyond his sight. Afterward, a laminated ID card on the ground catches his attention.
“There is fire burning beneath my skin…” – Olaitan Junaid.
“They set our house on fire. They’re after me. Somehow, they know.”
That was the message Deba sent Olaitan before fleeing from a gang—five hooded people—, each wielding sticks, after they heaved handkerchiefs on fire, strapped around the ring of liquor bottles, through their windows. It came from all sides, swift and sequential. It didn’t take long for the flame to lick the entire house with its reddish-yellow tongue. Deba and his mom escaped their burning home through the backdoor, and then the gang emerged.
Deba tumbles down, receiving pounds of sticks upon his body, screaming. His mom attempts to save him from the hungry beasts, throwing herself before Deba. But two members of the gang grasp her arms and toss her aside. The shriek of his mom as she hit the ground sets fire beneath his skin, causing him to abruptly wrestle off the gang and run away.
Darting, his heart thumping within his chest, there was only one place he could be safe. Deba doesn’t hesitate, he surges headlong to the woods. All the while, he hears echoes of his name in the air accompanied by a peculiar chant. It’s as though he is being hunted by a group of cannibals, eager to feast on his body.
Out of the blue, he trips over a root and rolls down a slope, yelling. He slams into a tree as he stops. Disoriented, he stares down. Blood trickled down a twig stab wound in his stomach. He rises, staggering, and then he sees the tear.
“We’re coming, faggot!”
Deba shuts his eyes and steps in.