I’m falling off a tall building. A skyscraper. The tallest skyscraper, I think it’s somewhere in Dubai. No, scratch that. I’m falling from space into earth. Yes. A numb, weightless feeling. I imagine an apocalyptic war raging on a dust particle floating to the ground in the desert. That’s what falling in space would be like. All these emotions and thoughts and feelings raging in me but no one else can see them and no one else really cares, I mean, what place does a single human falling have in the vastness of our universe and beyond? A numb, weightless feeling. Although it is coupled with the realization that, like falling in space, I would soon enter earth’s atmosphere and if by some miracle I’m not completely consumed and destroyed by my own momentum, I would surely be when I hit the surface with a splat. I cringe inwardly as I imagine my brains splattered somewhere and my lifeless body crumpled beyond recognition. [note on technicality]
I hold on to Sade like my life depends on it. Her small frame is engulfed by my arms. I feel like I would literally shrivel and die if I let her go. An image comes to my mind of a plant with a striking resemblance to me with its leaves drying up rapidly and its stalk disintegrating until finally it disappears into nothing. I smile a little and the wetness on her neck when I unbury my face from it makes me realize that I’ve been crying. She misunderstands this and begins to move away from me.
“Wait.” I plead and she becomes still. I inhale deeply to breath in her scent and it makes me feel a little better. Her smell hasn’t changed over the years and the familiarity of it acts like some sort of anchor. I become more aware of my surroundings. The first thing I notice is that her hands are hanging limply at her sides. A wave of embarrassment hits me immediately as I take a step back. I watch her as she turns away from me to pull a pack of tissues from her purse that’s on the sink and proceed to wipe her neck. Her green dress fits snugly, a bit too snugly probably because I’m able to make out the outline of her underwear. It looks like a thong and I also can’t help but notice the love handles at her sides.
“What do you want from me Jide?” I’m surprised at her tone. I hastily drag my gaze away from her body and I search her face. “What do you want from me?” Her voice is louder now, and her face unambiguous. She’s not joking, she’s not being sarcastic, she’s not teasing. She’s dead serious.
There’s knocking on the door all of a sudden. The sound is distracting. “What do you mean?” I’m at a loss. This is not a side of her that I’m familiar with. “I don’t under-” She cuts me off.
“You don’t understand what?” She’s practically shouting now. I hate to see her angry. She almost never gets angry.
“I’m sorry!” I don’t know what I’m apologising for, but I want her to calm down. “What’s wrong Sade?” I ask after a moment. She just shakes her head. She won’t meet my eyes. Her arms are folded across her chest. She unfolds them and picks up her purse.
“Sometimes…” She looks at me now but she’s not really looking at me. “Sometimes, I want to tell you that my name is Fola too.” She walks to the door and unlocks it. Two buxom women rush in, glaring at us accusingly. She turns back to me “It’s a great show Jide. I’m sure people are waiting for you.” Then she leaves.
I loved to watch Folake brush her teeth. It was a joke that we shared, how I was turned on more by toothpaste in her mouth than soap on her body. We would be lying in bed and she would smile at me sweetly, her dimples prominent, and she would ask me if I wanted her to brush her teeth. We would laugh and then we would make love. She had even started saying it in public. It became some kind of secret language between us.
I remembered my parents 35th anniversary dinner. I had just finished telling the table that I was positive I would find an agent soon. My dad had responded, saying that I should let him know when my extended sabbatical was over. I told him I wasn’t on a sabbatical, that I was a struggling artist and he’d laughed like I had just provided the punchline to his joke.
The table was silent after that. My sister’s husband glanced at me, unable to hide his judgement. My mother was surprisingly quiet. I looked around the table and no one would meet my eyes, not even my little brother. Blood rushed into my face and I was contemplating walking out of the dinner when Folake cleared her throat loudly and announced that she felt like brushing her teeth. The tension suddenly broke as my family laughed and began to ask her questions. My sister had looked at her incredulously and asked if she usually brushed her teeth in the middle of a meal. Folake had just smiled her goofy smile. The smile that told you that whoever you were, you just had to love her.
I’d looked at her then. Her dark braids were held away from her face by a black band and they fell straight down her back to her waist. She was wearing the earrings we’d bought together that afternoon, the studs were shaped like bullets and I’d thought they were awesome. She thought they were ridiculous but we’d bought them anyway. I looked at her dimples and at the downy hair on her face. I looked at her neck. I looked at her shoulders, admiring the way the beige dress set off her skin. She had turned to face me, smile still in place, less goofy now but more like an I just saved your butt kind of smile and I knew then that it was my heart that was at risk of being broken.
I stay a bit longer in the women’s bathroom. I’m staring at my reflection in the mirror and I barely notice the disparaging looks the women that are trickling into the bathroom cast me. I consider rinsing my face in the sink, to hide the fact that I’ve been crying, but then I decide against it. I want my outside to match my inside.
I quietly walk back into the exhibition, My exhibition, I think as my spirits lift a little. Sade was right. The opening seems to be going very well- at least in attendance. The make-shift gallery space is a converted second-floor studio apartment. The walls are brown, Desert Camel if I remember correctly, and the dividers that serve as additional hanging space have been painted the same shade. The wooden frames that my sister paid for as a gift, were painted a deeper brown. The effect that the browns have on the bare canvas of the charcoal sketches and the watercolour paintings is mesmerizing and I mentally pat myself on the back for not going with the standard grey or white.
There are people everywhere, and a lot of unfamiliar faces. I spot my agent talking to a pair of middle-aged white men at the far-left corner of the studio, the corner with the charcoal nudes, and I turn to the opposite direction before he sees me. I hear excited speculative whispers as I walk past a group of young girls in some sort of uniform. They must be friends of my cousin Vivian.
I stop in front of a huge water colour that is secluded from the rest of the paintings. If I stretched my hands out, they would just about reach the edges of the painting. The inner panel of the frame has been painted gold. I am pleased to see that there are no people around it. It is Folake’s face in all its beautiful glory. I secretly do not want to part with it, and I have put a huge price tag on it to discourage potential buyers.
I painted it about two weeks after my relationship with Folake ended. I was in the depths of a very cold and bitter depression that I knew I desperately had to get out of because of my upcoming showing. I decided to get a hold of my emotions the only way I knew how. The result is breath-taking. I take two steps back and I survey the painting. Because of its size, my eyes are on level with Folake’s eyes. Something that was never possible when we were together, even when she wore heels. There’s some gold mixed in with the brown of her pupils. Some gold in the black of her braids, not held back this time but falling at will. There’s some gold in her skin, which I lightened to a pastel brown or Hot Cocoa. There’s even gold added to the swirls of brown on the canvas around her portrait. I chuckle to myself when I spot the information tag of the painting. I gave it the unoriginal title of Subject in Gold and Brown. Anything else would have been too emotionally draining.
My eyes travel all over the painting. The unidentical arches of her eyebrows are one of the features that I know I was able to paint accurately. That, and the thin dark scar that went up from her left brow and stops just before her hairline. I take a step closer to the painting and I stretch my hand out to trace the scar. I’m transported back to the many times I’d tried to ask her about the scar. She’d always changed the subject skilfully, or managed to distract me in other ways. I smile to myself. I never really thought too much about it. Folake had always been fond of keeping secrets that were not really secrets. The way a wealthy woman would steal things she did not need. I’d just assumed it was an injury from her childhood but I wondered now if it had been something more serious.