Dreams We Mourn by Ayosojumi Akinsanya was submitted in May 2022 to Challenging The Writers Writing Contest #4 based on the writing prompt: Write a romantic story where your main character is devastated because their relationship has recently ended. But, in the end, they reconcile because they realised breaking up was a mistake.
I wake. I kneel. I pray to a god. I get up. I slip my feet into my rubber Crocs. I walk to the door, open it, and walk out.
I’m breathing. I don’t know if I’m breathing right or not. But I am breathing. Air rasps in my throat and catches in my nostrils. I am almost unaware of it, this act of push-and-take, if not for my breasts heaving up and down. I want to tell my lungs to stop teasing me.
Walking down the hallway, I can see Caro, our housegirl, already laying out breakfast. I nod to her “Good morning Aunty” I say walking past her into the general bathroom. “Aunty aunty,” Caro calls after me. She is older than me by nine years, yet she calls me Aunty. “Aunty aunty, I make toast. And tea. Hot tea. Like you like it.”
Revulsion wells in my throat. I slam the bathroom door behind me.
The tiles beneath my feet must be cold because the huge mirrors on the walls are misted over, but I can’t feel anything. I run the hot bath, step out of my robe, and climb into the tub. It must be very hot because the high-celsius bubbles are popping around my thighs and I can see the thick steam rising. Yet I feel nothing.
How does it happen? That one does not feel cold, one does not feel hot, one does not feel anything.
I increase the temperature of the water, increase it, increase it, until my skin is scalding over and my feet are burning in the water and, at last, I am crying.
I hold my body and read it for new surprises. My breasts are growing. My heart has shrunken. I am smaller than my head.
I climb out and sit on the bowl—prrriiiiit! Water drips down my body. If this is about sweat, my skin can’t. My urine sounds like a church instrument, plucked for spiritual deliverance; it leaves me threaded up within.
It’s amazing how so much leaves our body, and how so much remains.
Three hours later. I’m in my room. I’m lying on the bed. I’m staring at the ceiling. All the colours have blended. My eyes are open; I can’t see anything. I hear a car honk. I hear our gateman scramble. The gates open. A car crunches its way in. “Welcome, Oga! Welcome, Madam!”
I remain in bed. One hour. I remain there. Another hour passes. I watch the colours commingle and become images. Another hour and I hear Caro telling my mum I am inside. My mum opens the door and walks in with a wrapped parcel. “Sugar, how are you? Why are you indoors? I thought you went to Bola’s place with your sisters.”
“No, mum.” I stand up and hug her. I want to press my body against hers much longer, to bury my face in her boubou and hide my shame there, but she pushes me gently back and pushes the parcel into my hand. I look down. It is a sanitary pad.
“How old are you now?” she asks. I will be eighteen this September, I tell her. “Are you okay? Are you having any cramps?”
I hold up a hand, like a glass, for her to see through. “No, mum. I’m fine.”
She nuzzles my neck. “That’s my daughter. Remember your purity. It is your pride.”
“Yes, mum.” I want to tell her that I’ve been having sex since I was twelve. My fingers clench around the sanitary pad. “Why did you come back?” I ask even though what I want to ask is, “When will you go back?”
“The meeting ran even shorter than we envisaged. The flight was delayed in Saudi. Your father is so tired. Let him rest first before you go and greet him.”
I nod. I turn. She leaves. She has reproduced me, the daughter whose purity is her pride. I would have reproduced another, too, if not for the pregnancy control pills I’ve been chewing. The bed welcomes me. I hurl the pad over it.
The things I bleed, no pad can stop.
When people talk of dying, I wonder why they do it with more sorrow than shock. Death should stun us, startle us, and leave our eyes dry now, perhaps forever, too. If sorrow comes, it should come as an epilogue. A body that has weathered all weather, hail, rain, sunshine, storms, a body that has survived all these, now dies, lies still, moves no more, gets up no more. That is not something that makes you cry. That is a miracle. A wonder. Your eyes go dry and your mouth hangs open.
People should stop thinking life is the miracle. My body is dying. My tongue lies in my mouth, heavy, unfeeling.
Death is the miracle.
I avoid the calendar, Dee. I don’t want to see the word “April”.
At last. The Tenth Day. Today.
We have broken up. Our breakup story is absurd to many people. For what kind of a person says to their lover, right in the middle of a joyful meal, “Perhaps we should break up?”
Sweetheart—you should slap that word out of my mouth; it’s too bitter to produce a word so sweet—I have come to the throne of your forgiveness. I have wronged you deeply. In this saga, I have painted you the villain and myself, the hero. I have presented myself to this diary as the victim. But that is not true. If there is a victim here, it is you. I have done the worst any girl could, to the one she calls the love of her life. I compromised your love for me by questioning it. I asked you too often if you loved me indeed. You had the patience to answer me each time. Sometimes you would say, “I love you.” Sometimes, you would not say it. Then when I said I love you and I expected you to say it back, you would say, “It doesn’t matter how many times I say it; it doesn’t change the way I feel about you.” But your reply would leave my belly hollow. I would fall into a half-contentment-half-worry. I insulted you, insulted your love, yet you would not put the blame on me.
That kidney hoax, you said it to test my love for you. It was no harm, to want to become familiar with the terrains of a peculiar relationship. You had always had boyfriends, you had never dated a girl. In your last relationship, you told me, the guy was prepared to give you one of his kidneys, but immediately after the test, you realized you did not like him that much. Not the way you liked your first boyfriend. And now that our paths crossed, as I would be your first female lover, you were unsure, you wanted to know if the world was the same on the other side of the spectrum. You tested me; I passed. You hugged me, and I knew you were stuck to me. I was the one for you. I knew it. Yet I showed my best friend this, to make it look like you played on my feelings with the kidney prank. I made people call you “a mischievous bastard”.
You used to cry in my bosom. The first time you told me of your crush, the Indian guy you met on Facebook, you held my hands and apologized for having no control over your feelings. I held you to my chest and let you weep. You needed me. You had always needed me. You wanted to be sure you were not a monster, you falling in love in a different way. You growing heavy inside for me and, at the same time, for an Indian man you had never touched. You needed me more than you loved me, but I was content with the love aspect. We were the same anyway. I also needed you. I had found joy and peace with you. With you, I discovered self-liking. Seeing myself through your eyes, I had liked myself anew. I remember my wish that I could love you without needing you. Because of the helplessness that often comes with need. You were helpless, anchorless. You stayed together only because I was there. And yet I came out to say you were the one who left me hanging.
What about all those times you marvelled at me getting jealous when girls flooded your Messenger with “Hi Cutie?” I have always understood your lack of jealousy; I only pretended not to. It was not that you did not love me enough to be jealous over me. It is that you were so secure in your love for me that it admitted no worries at all that you might lose me to another. I was different from your boyfriends. I was the only girl you had feelings for. The only girl you will always have feelings for. And I came out here to paint your lack of jealousy as a portent of your betrayal.
Betrayal? Which betrayal? The only betrayal I see here is the one I did. I betrayed your concern for me. I disgraced your intentions. I know you will never love again. Never love anyone. Not even me this time. Not even him. You are more broken than I am because of this. You talk less about your tears than you talk about mine. I have been so wicked to you, and I don’t know how you can forgive me. You once said you would die with me. Is your love for me illogical enough, guileless enough, to redeem me in your eyes?
I told half a story. I told a single story. A scary story. Your dimples, once fountains of euphoria for me, now sew nightmares into my pillow. You were smiling, your cheeks breathing those hollows, when you said to me, “Honey. Your wish is our command.”
Do you remember days the sun shone, the days I felt your fingers dig into my arm, your lips left sizzling holes in my neck and made my nipples stiffen? Do you also think of the days we asked each other of dreams, of the shaping of our nights, the images drifting, loose plots, unknown mental scapes? You tried to play that card yesterday evening. You asked for your dream. I didn’t give it to you. You said you would come to visit me. I didn’t understand. I still don’t. I remember me throwing my arms around you the other day, and you reading my tension—the way you read almost everything about me.
Which dream, Dee? That dream—what you would think of it, what I think of it—will cease existing as soon as this relationship stops. You can pick up its corpse later.
To think I had imagined that, because what we share—shared?—was natural, it would survive. Does the word “natural” bring back memories to you? It was last year, exactly a year now, the afternoon I was going to say “Yes” to you asking me out. I was in a bright mood. Easter last year augured well. I sang in church. A special rendition of Easter worship. After church, someone walked up to me, shook my hand, and said I had a natural voice. “Natural”—that was the word he used. Not “beautiful”. Not “perfect”. Not “lovely”. Natural… And I wanted to hug him and thank him. Natural. It reminded me of you. It suggested an omen for us. It legitimized us. Told a proper story about us. How falling in love with you, how that we were in love with each other, how that we were even together was, in fact, natural.
Not beautiful. Not perfect. Not lovely. Just… natural.
When I remember us singing together—you pitching so beautifully, me lifting my harmony voice until it meshed with yours—it fills me with sweetness. And for a moment, I feel something.
I imagine when next our paths would cross. I hope you won’t strangle your dream out of my throat. Because that is how dead things resurrect.
This is beautiful
Thank you, Tom.
This is beautifullll. I enjoyed reading every bit of it