Ìfẹ́midé. Your name moves within me like sap within tree bark. A prayer upon my lips, repeated seventy times seven times in reverence to the old gods and the new; the capital letter G god of the white man and the gods of my people.
How do I speak of love when I cannot hold her hands beneath the canopy of the bright sky where the oyinbos say their god lives? I had never heard of a god living separate from his people until the white men came to our village. Their bright skin is of a shade absent in nature and their god is invisible, too ashamed of his falseness to visit them in the flesh. This is how I know that it, like them, is unnatural.
We have always been more. More than what we are, but less than what we are destined to be. The day that you and I truly become “Us”, is on a day our husband has left home for the village men’s fortnightly meeting. The same one where my father sits as head of the wise council, as his father did years before him and our husband will years after him. I walk over to your hut beneath a sun that burns hot on my dark forehead, shining so bright I can tell on lo gbogbo agbara re. He is using all his might. He has the gift of foresight and knows that soon, for a brief transcendent moment, we will eclipse him. Irun mi nfa lori orun mi, sweaty along the back of my neck, annoying me. I would never have started wearing my hair in these plaits if you hadn’t once told me you like the way it makes me look.
I am here.
And there you sit, hidden in the shade of your thatch roof on your favourite three legged stool, facing the direction I emerge from, as though you know, and you are waiting.
The gods tell us that love is a creature of light, yet ours finds itself folded into creases and dark corners like one of the shadow spawned children of Esu, the devil. Stolen, frightened kisses; shy in empty rooms with no mud walls to hide behind. The smallest finger of my right hand and your left, clasped. We cannot hold hands outside the safety of our husband’s compound, but I swear to Olodumare that I will hold you deep within the beating of my heart.
The ending of a thing is always better than the beginning. But you, Ololufe mi, are both beginning and ending. The death of my marriage to our husband was the catalyst for the birth of yours. And you were the catalyst for love buried deep within me, resurrected.
Our light is one that has been confined to the space between us. Shadowed under the roof of my hut or yours. The fear of discovery is enough to keep us silent. But, you are the feel of first lips greet in darkness. The breathlessness of skin on skin. Your palm caresses breast with the gentleness of singular sunset. You are ray of sun, shining through gap in leaves of palm tree standing far above head as we fetch water; reflecting rainbow on river surface. You are all the words of our language, though the white men call us uneducated.
I have told you my tale time without number. I am Fásẹwà. So named because Ifá creates beauty. Pride of both mother and father. Mother because I took after her and grew to be even more beautiful than she was, and father because I am the shining jewel in the crown upon his head.
Home, is a word that is shared into meanings as plentiful as the shards of a broken pot. To me it used to mean the celebratory smell of hot yam on the wind the morning after a good harvest, the feel of blowing into the fire, inhaling air into hollowed out cheeks and exhaling in a forceful gust as I sit, picking beans with Màámi. The sound of my fathers deep bellied cough, right after he lights his tobacco pipe. Home was the taste of palm wine, a sip here and there when Papa’s friends came to pass their greetings and I knew I could get away with it. Home was home, safe in its familiarity.
Now, home is the smell of ori rubbed vigorously onto glowing brown skin. It is the feeling of your children, running into my welcome arms. It is the distance between me and you, warm and sated from fulfilled pleasure. Your hand, soft and hestitant on my breast, and my fingers within you, gentle in my exploring. Home is me and you and our husband, a first wife who could not fulfill her expected role of mother, a younger wife who bore a son and heir nine months after her wedding night, and a husband who provides, but never learned how to love a woman who loves women.