The tears I’m holding back have gathered somewhere in my heart and now it’s heavy.
Haha! Drama Queen Strikes Again!
Well, I miss Ake.
When Elile told me I was going to get friendsly at Ake, I rolled my eyes across the Milky Way. “I’m really shy. Forget what you think,” I sighed. Boy! She was right!
Going to Abeokuta for Ake Festival wasn’t on my menu as at mid-October but, my close friend, OC, placed it there when he assured me it would be fun. That was how we arrived at Abeokuta on that warm Wednesday evening. October 16, 2016. Were it not for the okada men, we wouldn’t have been able to navigate through the town. Call us “Abeokuta Virgins”. (Sometimes, while on a bike, I’d imagine a car hitting us. The force would be so great we’d be tossed high into the air only to land splat! on the tarred road. Onlookers would gather to see the content of our split skulls).
On Thursday morning, we decided not to go for the welcome ceremony. As it turned out, Wife-Number-Three-in-My-Mind, Chinelo Okparanta, was having a book chat. OC shook his head at my excitement. “You will follow her to her house, abi?” he teased. Sadly, I missed Chinelo’s book chat. But, I consoled myself with, “Chinelo would be here tomorrow.”
Ese had told me she would be at Ake and I made sure to see her. But, the gal hardly stayed in one place. Jeez! Social Butterfly! There I was. Tired after thirty minutes. OC and I were not in the mood to meet new people. We stuck to each other and Ese was worried for us. “This one you two are gumming each other, are you colleagues or lovers?” she asked us. Lord! That was too ridiculous! (Whenever OC and I were alone, I’d repeat Ese’s question and we’d laugh at it).
I was giving up and ready to go back to the hotel when I saw Bibi Bakare! I was beyond excited! A familiar face at last! We got chatsy and that was how she introduced me to amazing people.
It turned out she was with Azinna and Chitra (Chitra of the warm smile and pretty eyes. I love that woman! She’s Wife Number Six in My Mind). We talked a little and I left to buy Flora Nwapa’s Efuru. (You should get this book. You would love it!) OC got a book, too. As soon as we were done, we left to return later in the evening.
Later in the evening, OC and I found a place to sit and we talked about different things- racism, bigotry, feminism, etc. We were talking when Chinelo and some other people walked past. Chinelo looked in our direction. Self-control made me seat still and not walk up to her to say hi. OC laughed at how I stared at her walking away. I must have looked like a smitten teenager. “You think she would leave whomever for you?” Good friends know how to crush our dreams by smacking us in the head with reality!
The next day, Friday, I was at a panel discussion that included Chinelo. This woman is like my soul mate or what? We share similar ideas on the topic at hand. The topic was sexuality in African literature. She said, “Shame is a power that we give to others to wield over us. For me, I’ve taken back that power”. And some homophobic idiot was trying to throw shade at her for writing Under the Udala Trees and Happiness like Water. Like… why did she have to attack Chinelo? Only idiots blur the line between asking a question and being vituperative. But, wifey clapped back! In my head, I was like, “Go wifey! Go wifey!”
Eventually, I walked up to Chinelo after the panel discussion. Pretty, warm-eyed, soft-spoken Chinelo. I told her I was a huge fan. I added I wanted to marry her. I think she blushed at that. We talked some more. Heaven knows I held myself back from saying something outrageous. Use your imagination.
“Do you understand Igbo?” I asked tentatively, almost shyly.
“Yes,” she smiled at me.
“Okay, my onye foto will snap us.”
“Onye foto,” she repeated, as if weighing my words, and smiled some more. Please, tell me she found it funny. Is it all in my head? This thing called love! Ha!
We posed for a picture and I told her, “I want to rub it in my sister’s face.” She laughed at that. Sadly, I left her when it happened she was having an interview.
God! I actually stopped typing to reminisce those few minutes while twisting a lock of my hair between my fingers. If only memories were coins we could put in a jar. (Sighs wistfully) I hope to talk with her someday.
On getting to Cinema Hall, someone called out to me and there was Azinna! We talked and talked. Talking with her made me rethink some things except monogamy. I think monogamy is my default setting despite human nature being polyamorous. I think penguins are monogamous. I might have been a penguin in a past life. We went to the gallery and I saw beautiful photographs depicting Northern Nigeria in its rawness. Oh! I was close to taking off Azinna’s spectacles and saying, “I want to stare into your eyes.” But, I held back. Would that have been flirtatious?
Ah! We had lunch with Bibi and Chitra. They are vegetarians, too. I felt at home. Almost everyone ribs me for being vegetarian. Here, with these women, I didn’t have to hold back. The previous day, Bibi told me about a group chat for feminists. “It’s on Saturday,” she said. OC and I had planned to leave on Saturday. But, OC agreed we could stay till Sunday.
On Saturday, I met other intelligent women and honestly, there’s nothing as beautiful as a sisterhood. There we sat different women, different nationalities, and different experiences. “We’ll introduce ourselves and state why we became feminists,” Nana, who was on Chinelo’s panel, started. (There was Kinna, Lebo, Titilope, Panashe, Bibi, Chitra, Yewande, Wana… Ah! I can’t list everyone that attended. But, you have an idea of the crowd, right?)
“I was born a feminist,” I stated. “I feel there are two things involved. It’s either you’re sensible enough to want people to be treated equally or you’re plain stupid to want inequality based on factors people did not choose.”
On and on we talked about issues pertaining to women in the arts. Lebo Mashile (I have a crush on this woman. She became Wife Number Four after I heard her poetry rendition. She’s talented! You have to check her out!) went on to tell us how an idiot said women are inferior ergo, women’s writing is inferior. The best poems and acts I experienced at Ake were by women. Titilope Sonuga was extraordinary, too. We talked about how to promote women in the arts. Good thing we did. We must support ourselves, really. “Yes, even if it is shitty. She’ll get better with time.,” Bibi said. No one starts as a pro, right? You could feel the energy in that gathering. Sarah Ladipo-Manyika even said so. (That woman is illegal! To be so awesome like that is illegal. All that elegance, beauty, intellect… in one person is unfair. Very illegal. God! What is this life?)
After the meeting, I asked OC to take pictures of me. And this picture happened! It looks “planned”, eh? That is the witty Kinna Likimani. Amazing writer, too.
Palmwine and poetry was beautiful. I sat with Ese and her friend, Aisha. Our side talk made it interesting. I almost cried in Dorothy Parker as a”bard” lulled and numbed our minds with his annoying concept of poetry. I thought he shouldn’t be lightly nudged aside but flung out of the stage. If I want Ovid-like poetry, I have Metamorphosis.
The evening came to an end with Femi Osofisan’s closing remarks. Ah! What a storyteller! I wished he would go on and on.
After the events, I said goodbye to Chitra amidst hugs and kisses. I could have broken down but, I can’t be crying in public. I got Wana Udobang’s number, too. I have had a crush on this woman since 2014. Hehehe! The universe just brought her to me! Thank you, Universe! (Look at my life! Crushing on so many women! Fix me Jesus!)
Finally, Ese saw me off to the gate and we got huggy. “I could do stuff with you right now,” I leaned in to her.
“You want to show yourself, abi?” she dismissed the lewd thoughts forming in my head. I hope to see her in January. Once more, I hugged her and she had to say something stupid like, “I know you love hugging me. Everyone does.” Hehehehe!
Ah! Ake was a beautiful experience. I’m glad I went. I hope to be there next year all things being equal. I’m grateful for the talented, beautiful women I met there. Hehehe… It dawned on me I never talked with a guy there. Oh my! I didn’t even notice OC was the only man I talked with. This is funny.
I feel sad yet, happy. But, as Dr. Seuss wrote, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened”.