Boma visited me every evening. She smelled like the sweetness of ripe oranges and her laugh was like a living thing. It roared into your ears and lifted your heart with what felt like warm capable hands. We’d sit out in my parents’ verandah slapping away mosquitoes as we talked about everything but what we should have; boys we’d both pretend not to like even though we had what almost seemed like a silent agreement that any boy who came up in our talks had to be special in either a good or bad way, the places we’d like to go and all the things we wanted to be. We didn’t talk about why she came over every evening or about the bruises on her neck where her long sleeved shirts did not reach. For the hour or so that we’re together, we pretend that our world is a perfect, invincible bubble.
I met Boma when we moved to Port Harcourt. Boma is one of those people that catch your eye the second you step into a room; those people who aren’t afraid to look you in the eye, who disarm you and yet make you feel like you are home and everything will be okay. I was the girl with the meticulous, insecure handwriting. My words sat almost bent over on the pages of my books and yet they were perfectly written; every ‘I’ dotted and all my ‘t’s crossed and she was the girl with a heart so big, she loved carelessly, pulling everyone she met (which was a lot of people) into a fierce hug and saying “I love you” like the words lived on the tip of her tongue and fell out often outside of her control. It wasn’t long before she became my person. When I tell anyone about my life, I always say this was my first great accomplishment.
Falling in love is a thing almost like getting a baby to let you hold them. There’s the stage of complete adoration; “love” at first sight for many. After that, there’s the utter glee from getting a chance to be around this person and almost be emotionally intimate. Almost. The glee alternates with moments of stupendous disbelief that this person actually may care for you as much as you do them. But then, just as a fussing baby makes you realize that maybe you don’t want to hold them much longer, loving people means that their heart opens to you a little more and all the not-so-perfect details lurking in secret crawl out and start to show.
I started to notice them; the pretentious scars that lay on her shiny dark skin and showed when she absent-mindedly rolled up the sleeves of her navy blue sweater with “B.S.B” monogrammed across her left breast. They were like the lies she told, small, but thick with meaning. I would find myself thinking of Boma’s lies in French class. Why did she have to tell Baribo that her grandmother had died the week before? And why did she care for his pity and the way his sympathy made his words awkward? And how she romanticized death and dying; how many times did I have to force her to say “God forbid!”? And how many times did she make us listen to Sarah’s McLachlan’s “Angel”? And all the disdain in her voice when she spoke of her step-father. Boma showed you that emotions were spirits that possessed you and gave way only to each other.
She started to visit daily the day I’d found her in mid argument with her step-father. His hand had been poised, about to hit her. There had been something about the way his hand hung above her face. I would come to learn that unlike what Boma had told me about him, what I had seen was the awkwardness of a first near violence. She had come every night after that and she’d laugh her big laugh that filled my soul and made me feel like I was her savior. This was another thing about Boma, she made you feel things; love and pain and sadness and anger and protectiveness. Life with her made me feel like a high tension wire with a million emotions constantly surging, like current. It made me feel like I’d explode.
Boma showed me that sometimes people aren’t with you because they love you. Half the time, it’s because they love the way you make them feel and that isn’t always the same as loving you because why would anyone who loved you cut themselves right in front of you? Let you watch them bring themselves to a pool of nothingness. Watch your face with a sardonic smile as life slips out of them like a child’s slimy hands from his mother’s. At first, I’d fought her for the knife until I’d seen my finger on the floor, writhing like a man in pain. I had let her hurt herself then because for the first time in the year I’d known her, I’d thought of myself and my happy, happy parents and my little sister with the toothless grin who got asked if a train had run through her mouth every time she smiled. I had screamed for her to stop until I was hoarse and depleted of strength. But I had done nothing else but hold my bleeding hand and waited for her to do it so I could run out of her kitchen, her house and her. When she had stopped and was lying there with her eyes fluttering and her mouth whispering “Don’t… call anyone… ” I had left my finger and run. I’d like to say I honored her last wish, but I didn’t.
Now, I listen to ‘Angel’ for the millionth time because I want ‘closure’ and I wonder how I could have missed it. All the words she sang with that raspy voice:
“I need some distraction
Oh beautiful release
Memories seep from my veins
Let me be empty and weightless
And maybe, I’ll find some peace tonight.”
I want to think she was happy to die but some nights, when I wake up from blood-soaked dreams with pain in my finger, I hope she never finds peace.