An essay about nostalgia, love and a relationship that has enabled me to create after countless blocks — by Obumneme Osuchukwu
The first day she bathed in my house, I wished I gave her a better towel to dry her body. The towel I gave her reminded me of those who have used the towel to dry their bodies. Some, thoroughly, others in snatches.
That towel was a white towel that was slowly getting tired of whiteness. There was a part of it that had a brown patch somewhere. Indelible. The day I stained it with my dyed hair, I regretted days later because the girl I wanted to look all good for didn’t stop by at my place anymore. She said over the phone “ I think I will stop at my brothers place tonight. see you tomorrow morning”. I knew it wasn’t her brother but I told her to take care. That was the towel I gave her the first day. That patch reminded me of disappointment. Any day she used it, I asked her the part of the towel she used. She didn’t know why. But I didn’t want the disappointment that chose to linger on my towel to rub off on her because I thought she was special. I looked at her differently, I woke up at night to see her sleeping face. I did a lot of weird things during the first times she stayed over at mine.
I wanted to know if her poo stank more than mine. I tried many times to watch her up close while she sneezed and said “Bless me” I noticed that when she had her periods, she went through it with the graciousness of a peacock. Little screams here and there while she clutches her lower abdomen biting her lip down in pain, sensually. While she cooked, she possessed the kitchen with her spirit. You walk into the kitchen amidst the steam and you feel the aura suffocating you and when I tasted her food for the first time, it tasted like her.
The second towel she used was a stolen towel. Maybe not stolen but I never bought it but it somehow found its way into my box of possessions. Let me explain- Shortly after the pandemic allowed us movement, I traveled with some friends to Abakiliki, a small town in south Eastern Nigeria. That evening, we drove into the hotel we saw on google and went straight to the restaurant to order food because we had starved through bad roads and police harassment. While our accommodations were being sorted, we confessed to each other, the ulcer symptoms we were having.
The waiter on duty that night was a sloth. He waltzed into the room after I had called the kitchen on the intercom time and time again, he knocked with contempt and when I opened the door, he walked in slowly carrying a tray of what I didn’t order. I ordered noodles and instructed specifically that I didn’t want pepper. He nodded and went on to get me a plate of pepper with half plate of noodles. As reparation, I folded the towel that belonged to the hotel into the bottom of my bag and dragged the zip to a lock that night.
It was white. Very white and fluffy. It had the name of the hotel on it, the identity of the true owners. The first day I brought it out for use, it had just arrived from the laundry. After I tore the polythene, I sniffed the towel. A habit I had developed from my mother’s house — sniffing washed clothes after they dried. I did it a lot and when I moved out to stay alone, I discovered that dry-cleaned clothes smelled differently. I would later conclude that the reason I felt it had a different/better smell than the clothes I washed myself was the money I paid.
I allowed her dry her body first with this towel that didn’t remind me of anybody except the chef and the waiter who made me take this towel home. When I told her about the boy whose nonchalance inspired the heist, she adjusted from where she sat in utter disbelief and asked me if I was serious. The towel was already hanging from the door, within touching distance from where she sat.
She stood up and began to run her finger across the towel asking me to guess how many other strange bodies have used this towel that is now mine. We began to ponder and imagine bodies that have used this towel and how they used it. Some customers must have been part of humanity that wipes their butt crack with towels and go on to wipe their faces with it. It troubled me that the towel must have had history in that hotel before fate planned its relocation to Anambra state, on the wings of my nerve that was touched by both the chef and the lousy waiter.
The way she spoke didn’t make communication a chore. I asked her if she knew what the hands of dry cleaners were made off. She said “flesh” and I didn’t disagree because I knew their hands were responsible for the washing away of memories — of colognes, dirt, hugs and nicotine. The man who washed the towel after it became mine drowned the history in that towel before washing it bit by bit until the whole towel became new, and ready for new memories. I know this because when I sniffed it, I didn’t perceive any human memory except the memory of the detergent used to wash it.
“You are saying all these just to feel good about a towel you stole” she said, rather humorously. she didn’t know that the memory of her wet body was on the towel already and when she stood up to run her fingers across the towel, to me, she was touching herself.
Procrastination destroyed that towel with every memory it held. I woke up one morning with a heavy burst of energy and I didn’t know what else to use all that strength for except to clean the house. When I was done with the sweeping and cleaning of the house, I convinced myself that I had some more strength and that was my mistake. That was the day I buried that towel inside a bucket of water with all its fluffiness, memory and whiteness. I soaked it in water and soap and didn’t go to that bucket again until the day I threw it away. That is the life of an ADHD patient. The type of energy needed to live a normal life only comes twice a month and the second time it comes, maybe, you won’t be in the mood to be productive and that is how I squander what I don’t really have.
At this point, I had no towel. I had discarded the first one and this other one was gone too. She went back to her house for a while and one day I visited her for the first time. The road that led to where she lives is a tiny excuse of a road with stalls flanking it. I thought about the way she walked on this same road after I asked her out. Did she walk with a bounce? Or did she do the cat walk? I thought about these while I walked into her compound. When I entered into the belly of the hostel, I began navigating the stairs and searching for her room number at door lintels. When I saw it, I was overwhelmed by a sudden nervousness. I stood there for a while catching my breath, perfecting my smile and adjusting my T-shirt.
After her dramatic interrogation at the door where she asked me who I was looking for, she let me in and said “This is my humble abode” in that Nigerian way that isn’t really humble but wishes to be. What mattered wasn’t her faux humility, it was the mirror on the wall that mattered at that point. I stood there, before this object that has seen her more than I have seen her. The thought of the mirror knowing her more than I did crept into my mind and I kept dismissing it on the grounds of its inanimateness. But this mirror knows how she looked after she came back from my house the first day we kissed.
I spend some time before the mirror making faces and gesticulations while she watched me adding myself to the collection of memories hiding inside her mirror. I came to a conclusion that hanging mirrors that fall down and break are just depressed mirrors that are tired of showing people their selves, expecting to be seen in return but humans are just immersed in their own self. They can’t even hear when their mirrors are screaming for attention until they fall and shatter into shiny miniscule memories glittering like hanging stars from levitating night clouds.
Obumneme Osuchukwu is a Nigerian writer who prefers to be referred to as an Igbo writer. He is the founder of Eagles nest bookclub, Awka. He identifies also as a rebel and a Pan-African scholar. He tweets @markosuchukwu. His portfolio can be seen here: markanthonyosuchukwu.