Plums

We are reading a poem about plums when I leave.

Everyone thinks it is a poem about sex, I don’t think so. I find myself in her yard as the facilitator reads the second verse of the poem, staring at plums—round and pinkish white—on the tree by the dirty white fence. It’s a hot day, I swat flies by my ears and watch the lazy wind stir dead leaves. I try to reach out to the plums, they’re just there within my reach, but I cannot move arms; they feel too heavy and glued to the sides of my body.

I walk into the house. It is unlike I remember it: old and small—perhaps, my color is too sharp, and my body is too big for it. It smells of camphor and medicine. Orange bulbs in glass beaded containers light it up. There are faded pictures in sepia on the wall. She’s in most of it, standing by her late husband and late children—my mother and uncle. It’s the 70s and 80s in the pictures, and they wear afros, suspenders and round glasses. They keep serious faces—flat lips and furrowed brows.

She calls me to her, my name is “Esteri Ayaba” inside her twisted tongue and gap teeth mouth—not Esther. I’m not the wife of the king. I’ll never even date a prince. My life is lonely, just like hers.

Everyone thinks it is a poem about sex,
I don’t think so

She’s on the bed, a basket of plums on the old dresser by her bed. The dresser used to be a pretty vintage thing, now it’s only a shadow of itself, bitten on the sides by termites. She looks faded, like the pictures on the wall. Her pale skin matches the duvet that covers her body up to her neck. On a chair in the corner is gold lace fabric spread out across the arms with orange beads, a gele and iborun.

Come, she says, her mouth forming the words, her lips moving, but no sounds reaching me. I rush to her side, my abaya sweeping the dusty floor, my feet pricking sharp memories of forgotten things.

She smells old of melted candles and the color black for death and something damp, but her bedsheet smells of camphor, and her words smell of something thicker than cough syrup.

“I’m late, you have to help me get ready,” she says.

Late for what? I wonder.

I stare into tiny round eyes. I sigh. I run fingers through tufts of hair and some of it comes off in my hand, making me shudder.

“Please.” Moving lips, but no sounds.

“Maman Dawodu,” I say her name. “Where are...I’m not…”

I wonder who she thinks I am; I want to say, it’s me your grandbaby, the writer, Esteri Ayaba but certainly not married to a king. Perhaps she thinks I’m the old maid, the one they called Fasilat. She ran away a few months ago. She pushed Maman in the tub, and stole her money. I heard about it all the way in the Island a few months ago. Now, the neighbours come in to help her. Zainab’s mother from next door brings eko and moinmoin wrapped in leaves in the morning and feeds her through unwilling parched lips. Asunle’s aunty brings okele and ewedu in the evenings and helps her with her baths. In the afternoon, some neighbourhood kids help her out to sit beneath the Plum tree and face the setting sun.

I wonder who she thinks I am; I want to say, it’s me your grandbaby,
the writer, Esteri Ayaba but certainly not married to a king

I’m still trying to tell her I’m not really here, when I notice the plums. They’re spoiling now, they have dark spots and are soft and sticky when I touch them. I clean it against my dress. I twist my lips because I know what they are trying to tell me.

She tries to sit up, pushing her elbow into the mattress. I help her. When she’s fully seated, resting against pillows propped behind the bed, I notice that there’s a fog settling in between us. It makes her words thick and hard to decipher, it makes my ears blocked and my eyes watery.

She’s crying waving her hands, and I’m telling her, as the distance grows between us that I’m not really here, that I’m on the Island but I’ll come back to see her soon. I don’t know if she hears me. But when I’m back in class, my seat partner, Kpakpando, asks what I think. I tell her the poem is about plums, simple.

“Forgive me, they were delicious, so sweet and so cold,” I read the last lines of the poem from the paper in my hand. “See? Just a poem about plums,” I say.

She tilts her head slightly, squinting her eyes at my words that lack any depth. I shrug.

The taste of plums, cool and juicy, on my tongue.

Art by Chezdomia

Chezdomia is a sentimental project, born out of the belief in food’s power to evoke memories, help us explore new cultures and bring people closer together. chezdomia.com | Instagram: @chezdomia

Ope Adedeji dreams about bridging the gender equality gap. She is a lawyer and editor and an alumni of the 2018 Purple Hibiscus Trust Creative Writing Workshop. If you do not find her reading, you'll find her writing.