My friends and I.

My friends and I had been a trio for as long as I could remember. We latched on to ourselves in the sand box many years ago, all three of us not yet school bound. I remember our mothers initially sat apart, watching nervously as their children hung on to each other, pouring sand into buckets, holding hands, singing songs we taught ourselves and speaking in a language unified in love. My mother was African. She braided my hair and added beads to the ends of my corn rows. She dressed me in brightly colored tie and dye dresses and adorned my neck with white cowrie necklaces and my feet shod in matching sandals. Her hair was full and more often than naught left to frame her round, lovely face. She wore long ankara skirts and thin strapped tops. My mother’s attire always matched mine. She show cased her heritage with brio and carried herself with such grace, people were always drawn to us. Like bees to honey, we had quite a following on the playground.

My friends were Lily and Anna. Lily’s mother was Japanese and we all called her Pearl, even her daughter. She was a tiny slip of a woman with hair the color of night. Her hair was long and full and hung like a curtain just below her bottom. She always wore dark colored pants and bright colored flip flops. Lily was a smaller version of her mother, her hair cut in a mullet. Anna’s parents were from some Scandinavian back water. They had migrated when she was a little over a year old. Her mother was a good head taller than mine, blue eyes, blonde hair, built like an athlete. She always wore trainers and sweat pants, her laugh was infectious. She was my favorite. I called her Mana, even though her name was Rose. Anna didn’t look anything like her mother though, her hair was dark, her nose a cute little button, her limbs were dimpled.

The mothers were united in their circumstances. My father worked long hours. My mother was satisfied being my primary care giver. Memories of my father back then was of a huge birth of a man who swung me into his arms while I teetered in between sleep and consciousness. He would hold me close to his chest, his stubby chin scratching my soft cheek. He would kiss me all over my face and whisper “Iya mi“. As the years plied on, my father’s hours were reduced and my mother took on work as a librarian in our district. I spent more time with him. When I spoke to him about those nights when I was younger, he blinked back tears and expressed such joy that I remembered. I had small crevices in my heart where I hid delightful memories of my childhood. We all lived in the same apartment building, which housed the play ground where we first became friends. We all attended the same school and always sought ourselves out during recess. No one could penetrate that bubble of love.

As we grew older and a wave of financial prosperity enveloped our parents, we saw a potential pulling away. My parents were talking about buying a home in the suburbs and leaving the city. Anna’s parents were eyeing property in another state, her father had taken a higher management position and had moved a year before. The back and forth between states over the weekends was taking its toll on his sensibilities. Lily’s parents were talking about going back to Japan. Her paternal grand father had passed away, leaving a tidy fortune behind-there was no need to struggle for the American dream; the Japanese dream had become a reality. It was possibly our last summer together, we were thirteen respectively. When my parents asked if I wanted to go to summer camp, I said no. I asked if I could take a trip with my friends knowing they were making similar requests. There was a lot of debate, the mothers speaking to themselves on the phone. A lot of whispering during car pool, with us three seated at the back. I felt a sense of panic as summer approached.

Eventually, our parents decided to take us to a family camp. The day I was told, I was ecstatic. I packed my bags and told my parents, I wanted to ride with Mana. My father chuckled and said if Mana didn’t mind, he didn’t care. The drive to Lake Huron was shrouded in a fog of sleep. I had been so giddy at the prospect of the journey, I hardly got any sleep the night before. And so, the minute I strapped on my seat belt, I fell into such a fitful slumber-I have no recollection of the beautiful landscape my friends captured on their cameras. They also mischievously made a short video of me snoring loudly with fries stuck in my corn rows.  We all stayed in log cabins, a cabin for each family. Lily’s father surprised us in the morning with fish and fries for breakfast, he knew it was our favorite. We ate all our meals outside facing the lake, on wooden benches, our paper plates cradled on our thighs. By evening we had forgotten about the benches and taken permanent residence on an old blanket Mana brought with her. We took long swims and chased ourselves around the cabins, played hopscotch and monopoly.

It was the first time in a long time all our parents were together. The quest to provide had ensured an incomplete circle. My friends and I stayed up long into the night, Mana had brought along a tent big enough for us three. The tent was pitched strategically from all three cabins; each parent had a view from their bedroom window. We talked about our past, spoke incessantly about the present and shied away from the future. At the end of the summer, Lily had started her period-another stamp on change. My parents also seemed to find something that summer. Long hours apart and the routine that befalls married couples had put a damper on their relationship. By the end of the summer, I noticed an awakening between them, a light in my mother’s eyes, a bounce in my father’s step. They lingered more in each others arms and seemed to see each other more clearly. The jaunt had brought a great gift to us all.

Our journey back was cloaked in silence. Each knowing, each accepting. I hit the ground running when I started high school in the fall. Lily and her family returned to Japan. Skype made the transition easier. Anna and I stayed united for longer. Our parents moved to the same suburb and we attended the same high school because her father was transferred back. We both did our happy dance to Pharrel’s song when we found out. Though we know change is inevitable and distance will eventually separate us, for now, we will bask in the euphoria of the added lease our bond has been given.

Death as a woman.

I imagined death as a woman. An ample bosomed woman with a generous derriere. If her victim is one, she would carry him or her in her arms. If her victims are many she would conveniently carry them on her back, well ensconced in the crevices of her buttocks. In my minds eye, she looked just like my step mother.

My only parent, my father brought her into our home when I was nine. I was the oldest of two children. My mother had abandoned my father shortly after my third birthday,my brother was still in diapers. I heard she absconded with the photographer who came to take pictures at my birthday party. And so, my birthday became a landmark- the day my mother ran away. My father was an unusual fellow. He made a modest living as a clerk in a state parastatal. He would wear a grey french suit and awkwardly a bow tie on his shirt, his tie always skewered. He was of average height and walked with a slight stoop. I have no recollection of a formal ceremony to herald her addition into our household. My younger brother and I found her in the kitchen one day after school. My father did not have the finesse  to make proper introductions. I did not know who she was for several weeks.

My father’s grey dull sheets were exchanged for flowery creations that were a stark contrast to the dull paint covering the walls of his bedroom. She changed our sheets and put rose colored blinds on the windows. I didn’t like the change but my opinion was of no relevance. She added a pink toothbrush to the stand that previously held only three. She also spent an eternity doing her toiletries, which Anuka and I found laughable: she still came out looking unattractive. She would polish her nails, paint her eyes, paint her lips and spend long minutes brushing her weave or wig. She would encase my father’s head in her bosoms when he returned from work and scatter loud kisses all over his face, leaving a trail of lipstick marks. My brother and I would peep at them from our little corner, snickering and laughing. They were amusing to watch.

She would make grand gestures of helping him undress, usher him into the room, draw his bath water while her great back side heaved with her giant strides. My brother and I would mock her; stuff our pillows in our shorts and spend long hours mocking their relationship. She was never unkind to us. She would walk us to school every morning, always made our meals on time and encouraged us to do our chores. She was firm, and if I really want to be honest…. she was kind. I guess my dislike for her stemmed from the way she was stuffed down my throat.There was no consideration as to how I would feel having a stranger in my home, in my life. It was not her fault, though. The fault was my father’s.

When I returned home from boarding house on holiday, I found Anuka fully ensnared by her. He smiled at her, sat with her, had long deep conversations with her. In a way, I knew deep down his dislike was not genuine but was feigned in loyalty. He wanted so much to have a mother. His own birthday wasn’t marred by a family scandal and I could see she genuinely adored my brother. He had adapted and was thriving. My father, step mother and Anuka had become a unit, a strong one, at that. I was on the outside, looking in. I felt no resentment towards my brother but my father and stepmother, I still eyed with resentment. My birthday was approaching and I had steeled myself on the impending silence that it always brought with it. For as long as I could remember, my father would detail that day, so long ago-when my mother ran off with the photographer. I had planned to leave for school before my birthday but was met with a firm nay from my father.

I awoke from my slumber. It was a little after 9 am. I decided resolutely to not allow the silence to bother me. It was my thirteenth birthday and for a brief moment felt hot tears smart my eyes. When I ventured out of the room I shared with my brother. I met my father, brother and step mother decorating the house for celebration. I gawked. My father waved me over- I approached cautiously.’Anozie, I have wronged you. For so long, I have unconsciously made you suffer for your mother leaving’. And that was the closest thing to an apology I ever got from my father. My step mother ordered a beautiful rose colored cake, she made my favorite dish of pounded yam and egusi soup. That day, as I hit my teens and became a man, I began to understand why they loved her.

Saturday mornings.

I lay on my back, my right arm casually flung over my eyes, my duvet pulled up to my chin. I spread my limbs carelessly-enjoying the coolness of the sheets beneath me; listening to the unobtrusive sounds that assail my thoughts. I find, I can see without opening my eyes, my ears serve in all I need to know of whats going on around me.

My spouse is in the living room. He is on the phone, his sing song voice going up and down. I try to guess who he is speaking to. The door to our boudoir is closed and so his voice is muffled. We made a pact a while back to make as little noise as possible on Saturday mornings. Whoever gets up first leaves the other in silent tranquility. “Make your own breakfast, watch television, talk on your phone, read a book…whatever you do, do it elsewhere-and quietly”. With children who have have gotten to the age where they are relatively independent; it is a doable arrangement. There was a time that was not possible. When our mornings were disrupted by toddlers tumbling into our bed; when our schedules were made to par with theirs; when our lives was  ‘beautiful chaos’. Back when, we stumbled out of bed in the mornings, both blurry eyed, bumping into each other on the corridor – trying to find the bathroom while half awake; reacting to the inbuilt alarms in our heads to get- a- move- on.

Now, I can lay in bed and play a game of ‘who can that be’. With my eyes closed, I try to guess the originator of each sound I hear coming from different parts of our home. I hear the bunk bed creak in the children’s room. I hear the familiar heavy thumping of Long Legs as he leaves their room and goes to the bathroom. I hear the muffled exchange between father and son. I drift back into sleep and dream. Its a weekend and I am sleeping on my single bed in the room I share with my two sisters. I can’t tell how old I am exactly but I am wearing an old night shirt I wore in my college days. My hair is in abject disarray and my sisters are in various stages of of undress. We are talking excitedly, a rush of words I can’t remember-the dream, a blast of colors and beautiful music. The dream, a quiet reminder of the past. When we all lived together in one unit, long before we all ventured out as adults; before we all got married and started our respective families; back when….I saw life in black and white and not shades of grey. The days, my father would sit in his study, carefully bent over his many manuscripts. His bifocals perched on the edge of his nose, pen in hand-poised to write. My brother on his computer. My mother pottering about in her bedroom, while she shared an anecdote or two.

I awake again, my eyes- I keep closed and resume playing the game. I hear Chunky ask for cereal. I hear the door to my room venture open in creaks. I feel an added weight on my bed; a pressed kiss on my lips and know its Chunky without opening my eyes. He slips away, as quickly as he came in. A fourth voice, softer then the men’s joins the mix. She asks their Dad whether he wants to join her in eating oats. At that time, I decide to open my eyes.

Alade Eleshin Ara.

And so I have been called upon to give an eulogy on my friend. You all know me. I can say of a truth, I have known Alade Eleshin Ara most of his life. We have been friends for almost seventy five years. We met when we were both helping our fathers farm their plots, which lay adjacent to each other. In fact, that was how we became friends. Both fathers were contemporaries in our great village of Ekunkan. As children, we ran down the dirt path leading to the stream and waded naked in the clear, pristine cool waters. We were innocent and simple. Our eyes not shrouded with adult concerns, our stomachs distended from our meals of fufu and mixed vegetables soup.

He was a great traditionalist. The great masquerade leader. He ran the youthful ring that brought forth our Gelede masquerade. I do not understand why you children insist on burying him as a christian! He was a staunch traditionalist, a true son of Ayo Oka. He embraced the ways of his ancestors and was proud of his beliefs. In his death, you people cut off the beautiful braids that adorned his head and shoved a crucifix down his throat. Alade was not a hypocrite. He never embraced Christianity. In what world does one justify this sacrilege? You stripped his power house of the gods of his fathers and trashed his totems. You burnt his ibante, his horse tails and cowrie adorned wrappers.

Is Christianity not about truth?  Is it not about love? Is it not about temperance? All of which you have not displayed in your planning my beloved’s passage to the great beyond. You have shown absolute disrespect for his beliefs while he tolerated your excesses when you all went on the path of your gospel. You children and your viper of a mother raised a fund to build a new church while the old one fell apart, while your father’s roof began and continued to leak. If not for this pump and pageantry of a burial, it would continue to leak and you would not have done the emergency renovation of his home. Your home! You were all raised within these walls. He did his due diligence by you, did he not? Not one of you lacked. Even though your snake of a mother was disrespectful and bore children of questionable paternity, my Alade raised you all as his. Abi, you want to say you didn’t know. Oyeleke, stand up! Ask your mother! Akinkanjuola, don’t hide your face behind your wife’s head gear. Aduke omo Ogini, you know how your mother fraternized with the palm wine tapper, the Ba’ale, to mention a few.

If you children are representatives of the god you emulate, then you must worship the devil. I am too old, too close to the end of my earthly life to live a lie and be a hypocrite. I leave you with one prayer; may your own children treat you with the same magnanimity and care you extended to my friend. May your days end as his did. May your lives be a reflection of the seeds you have sown. Ase!

 

Kindness

I ran across the busy road. Some bearded fellow had eventually been kind enough to wave me across. I was on a short break and I badly needed a muffin and some tea. I had just resumed work after a year long hiatus. It was January, which in Chicago meant it was very cold. I had erroneously anticipated a spike in temperature and so, left my office without my scalf, hat and gloves. By the time I got to the coffee shop, I was freezing. I stuttered out my order, rubbing my arms and shifting from one foot to the other, blowing at my frozen fingers, willing some warmth back into my body. The associate taking my order, Theresa was a short, middle aged woman with a sunny disposition. Cold,eh? I nodded the affirmative. She wrapped my muffin carefully while making small talk, I absent mindedly reached in my jacket for my purse….I had left it on my desk! My heart fell to the bottom of my boots. I’m sorry. I stammered, embarrassed at the prospect of not having funds to pay for my breakfast. Realising my situation, she smiled and waved away my apologies.‘That’s OK love. It’s on me.’

That was five years ago. Her act of kindness towards me, a stranger then, continues to stoke the flame of hope in my heart. Hope, that each individual has the ability to be kind. Not bogus acts of kindness, well, those ones are good, too. But those nuggets of goodness we share on a daily basis: a smile, a kind word, an act of genetosity in paying for another’s meal without breaking the bank. It goes a long way.

Back to my story. From time to time, I still stop by her coffee shop. She still insists on giving me muffins and hot chocolate drinks without taking money. At times, she will give me two muffins for the price of one when I insist on paying. Always smiling, never a dull moment in her company.

Be nice, not just to people you know but strangers. An old friend of mine always says: Be kinder than necessary. Everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle and carrying some kind of burden, noone else can see.

When love dies.

When I met Akeem*(not his real name), he was round faced, had a full head of hair, a thick middle and a disarming smile. I was a volunteer at a children’s hospital, he was a pediatrician. I volunteered once a week and my shift coincided with his. My hours were short and I had a family to return to. We became fast friends and he helped me navigate the large hospital, usually giving me pep talks on how to make my visits easier on his patients, many of which were patients in the ICU.

He was engaged to be married and fiercely looking forward to the date. He would ask me different questions about my African heritage: foods, spices, fashion, traditional hairstyles. Every visit was an inquisition. He was always reading about my culture, asking questions not limited to my country but the continent as a whole. He would practice speaking Yoruba and Ibo and send me texts in both languages. I brought him jollof rice, ofe ogbona, ofe nsala with pounded yam and eba. I also showed him how to roll boluses of eba and pounded yam with soup without making a mess. At his behest, I brought him several recipes of the meals he had sampled for him to try. He would return the follow week with a prepared sample of the recipe of the previous week. His fiance perfected the art of making jollof rice. He would show me several snap shots of his wife to be. She was a dark head, with a beautiful smile, several inches shorter than my friend. I never met her but felt I knew her, through him, if that made sense.

It amused me how much unsolicited information he volunteered about his relationship, I guess my orientation made me more close mouthed but one thing was certain; he was completely smitten. He would ask me for ideas on how to surprise her. I was always amused by the enthusiasm by which he approached their relationship. Despite being together for six years, he still displayed a giddiness associated with the newness of  a budding relationship.

I missed their wedding due to a clash of obligations. He returned from his honeymoon a month later with a healthy tan and a brighter smile. He brought along his wedding album and several snap shots of his honeymoon. He told me of the different foods he sampled, the change in weather (they honeymooned in Hawaii) and how much he missed his patients. They seemed happy, at least he was. Two years later, I had stopped volunteering but he remained a feature in my life. We had common interests. In addition to being my friend, he had become a good friend to my spouse. I did notice he started to loose weight. He had always struggled with his weight and I was amazed at how the weight seemed to slip off him that last year. He also seemed distant, his smile… more forced. Eventually, after making excuses for his wife for the umpteenth on her inability to join us at dinner; he tells us he is getting a divorce. I was in shock.

Many questions raced through my mind but I refused to ask. He told me there was a betrayal of trust and he could not continue in the relationship. His voice shook and he appeared broken. I patted his hand and kept mute. Long after he left, my mind was in a maze. How does one loose such an intense love for another? What kind of betrayal could not be forgiven? I resisted my natural tendency to call him, to bother him till he was more forth coming. I decided to pray for him; for both of them….hoping they would find the light of forgiveness in the tunnel of pain and anguish that had encased their marriage.

They did get divorced. He was incommunicado for several months. He seemed to fall off the radar. I stopped texting and continued to pray and hope they were both okay. And just as easily as he vanished, he reappeared. He had lost several pounds, his middle had disappeared and I saw glimpses of my old Akeem. He still refuses to talk about what happened in his marriage but that’s okay. For someone who was so forthcoming in the past, he has become as close mouthed as me.

 

Wanderlust

I sat on the stoop backing the white bungalow, facing the little vegetable garden my mother loved to nurture. She grew tomatoes, green leafy collard greens and okra. She would buy different foul smelling products from the old man that serviced the farmers for fertilizers. I sat in that familiar posture, back bent, my neck jaunting forward, my chin resting on the soft curve of my right hand, while my other arm lay between my two lower limbs. I was supposed to be under punishment. My offense:voyeurism.

My father was angry, my mother same. I think what annoyed them the most was my unrepentant attitude. My teacher had caught me peeping at the girls in the bathroom at our school. She had discreetly pulled me in her office, given me a thorough tongue lashing and sent me home on a day suspension. I was a normal twelve year old with normal curiosities and did not feel I was being justly treated. My father had told me to sit outside and think about my transgressions, though, I almost thought I caught the beginning of a small smile tug at the corners of his lips.

What they both didn’t know, though was on that stoop, staring into that garden, my mind was free to wander from the confines of our home, our little town and roam free to whatever the world had in store for me. I would run down the dirt road of Ayeje to the busy car park many kilometers south of our town. I would climb into the smallest vehicle, the one that was least crowded and pick a driver that was possibly in his twenties, so, he would not drive like my father. He would step on the accelerator and embrace the highway like a speed demon. I would stop at the next market and buy half a dozen oranges and half a dozen mangoes. I loved oranges and mangoes. I always thought of buying fruits in sixes. I counted in sixes, from as long as I could remember. My mother used to say, every other person she knew said their children counted in twos, I did mine in sixes. She thought that made me special. Mothers always believe their children are special. I would eat my mangoes with careless abandonment, wiping my soiled fingers on the leather seat of the vehicle; something I never would dare do in my parents’ cars. I would take off my shirt, litter the interior of the vehicle with the leftover seeds from the fruits and let our loud, odoriferous farts to the disdain of other passengers…..” Such were the contents of my day dreams. I longed to do crazy, stupid things that were not in line with conventions. Maybe, that was why I chose to peek at the girls in the bathroom, wanting to see for myself, if, what I had seen in my biology texts were really true.

I looked forward to when I would be able to explore the world on my own. No mother or father breathing down my neck, telling me to greet that person, do not slouch, stop grabbing your crouch, stop talking while eating, in short…live life on my own steam. My father called me into the house after an hour. He wanted to know why I did what I did. I told him the truth. I was curious. He did not seem angry anymore. He encouraged me to stay on the right path, whatever that was, and not to deviate to evil; which I interpreted as stop spying on naked girls.

As I grew older, I ventured beyond the boundaries of our town for college. I chose to major in History. I loved to read. Books were my escape in those days long before I went off to college. It grounded me and gave several scholarships that opened the door to the world I had longed to explore. I went on to South Africa on an internship program. I explored the Sun City and wandered from shop to shop, enjoying lattes and taking pictures I sent home via email. I went back home with a jaunt in my step…..and a hunger for more. An opening to study for a year in Malaysia came at the end of my first degree. A fellowship I won through an extensive essay I had written, a partial fulfillment to my degree program. My mother cried for many days, while my father’s chest was pumped up in pride. I could not wait to leave.

I spent the following year oscillating between Malaysia and home. Long after my fellowship ended, I stayed on in Malaysia. My reasons were not academia but a long haired, dark skinned woman who was several years older. My father was the only one I told. He patted me on the shoulder and encouraged me not to close my options. Long after that relationship bit the dust and I had completed my masters thesis, I decided to return home for a brief period. I had been offered a job in the state university as Lecturer I. It was a great opportunity to have me close to home my mother enthused. I stayed within close proximity for a year, teaching my classes, reading and drinking. I did not consider myself an alcoholic. I just saw the world through beautiful colored lenses after I drank. My father encouraged me to leave again. He believed my heart was else where and being grounded was making me miserable. So, when I received another fellowship to travel to North America for my doctorate program, I left.

My travels took me across the world. I criss crossed North America. I spent a summer in Mexico, taking long bus rides across the Cuida Suarez, smoking my blunts and writing long emails to my parents. My mother always asked me about the opposite sex, my father’s interest was more in tune to mine: the beauty of the world before me. I let my hair grow long and unruly…and yes, stopped drinking. My father was right. Being confined to the borders of home made me miserable. By the time my doctorate was done, my dreads were almost waist length. I stayed on to teach in a small mid town college in Nebraska after my dissertation. The population was barely 3,000. It was quiet. I could hear myself think. I rented a small house which attracted me due to a strong semblance to my parents home in Benin. In fact, when I sent my parents a picture of my home they both expressed shock at how my house looked almost like theirs. A strange coincidence.

During my summer vacations, I would visit small pockets of South American cities with a group of colleagues from the college. We all were single, no children and no financial burden that bound us. I sat in small cafes in Honduras, Ecuador, Venezuella and on a lark took part in an international cooking competition in El Salvador. I fell in love so many times, my friends stopped counting. I would meet a beautiful woman and quickly forget about the one before. Not much depth to my emotions, if I want to be honest. I would sign up for many seminars outside the city where I lived. It didn’t matter where. If I had the time, I would find the energy. I wanted to experience the world. Unhinged and unincumbered, I was happy. My mother stopped asking about women.

A couple of weeks short of my fortieth birthday I returned home for my father’s seventieth. I had gotten a clean shave to fit in with my parents conventions. I had stopped smoking a full year before and knew I looked the part of successful history professor, whatever that was. My  mother expressed her concern for my lack of interest in the opposite sex. When I shrugged and made a non committal response, she busted into tears.

My father sat with me in his study after dinner. I apologized for making her cry. He bent over and patted me on my knee. Are you …gay? I was thunderstruck. No Dad. I started to laugh. After a few seconds, he joined. My mother slipped into the room and sat beside me. I told them the punishment I received from peeking at the girls in the bathroom many eons ago had blighted me. “Stupid boy”. My mother said wiping her eyes with the back of her hands. They expressed their concern at my reluctance to start a family. My inability to put down roots. I listened to both of them speak while I sipped my water. I was a good listener. My life was a simple one. I loved women. Different kinds of women. Short, tall, dark, light skinned. I was done wandering the world but still liked to sample women.The women knew I was not one for commitments.I never gave anyone false expectations and was always a gentleman. I had begun to tire though, of the game. And so in line with my nature, I told my parents the truth: I liked women…different types of women. I was more than a little of a Casanova, to put it lightly. My mother looked relieved, my father a little confused. After all these years, he was surprised I had not gotten the wanderlust out of my system. He said I may have slowed down from migrating from continent to continent, but I was still moving around….only I had swiped cities for women.

I spent the next month in long conversations with my father. We took long walks. He climbed inside my head and helped root out a lot of the nonsense that cluttered my thinking. Clutter, I was not even aware I had. He encouraged me to meditate and pray. I added the bible to my many reads. Funny thing though, after wandering the earth and trying to find my identity….I found myself right where I started from. I found myself, sitting on my stoop beside my father, chin in hand on the eve of my fortieth birthday.

 

Revenge on a leash

He always goes for a run in the mornings. It didn’t matter what the weather was like, sunny, cold, windy…it was irrelevant. His commitment to keeping a healthy lifestyle was rigid, unbending, like his commitment to everything he set his mind to. He would walk two blocks from his building, turn left and jog twelve blocks. His pace was moderate, his limbs were long and his face set, like flint. His body was covered this time around in cotton fiber, his feet shod in comfortable running shoes.

He often passed an elderly woman walking her dog. He never responded beyond a quick nod to her cheerful hello. The dog looked like a poodle, a small ball of fur that pulled its owner in different directions. It always barked in his direction, then raise its dainty nose and sniff in the air. He always took  in every scene in snapshots. Old woman,check. Dog that looks like a ball of cotton wool, check. Children bending down to pat dog, check.

He didn’t like dogs. He used to…not anymore. He once had a dog when he was younger, back in the old country, when his parents decided to reward him for his good grades. It was just before his eight birthday. He loved that dog. A brown mongrel with small ears. It followed him every where. Slept right at the door way of his room, ate from his plate and played fetch to his bidding. Then the war broke out and every semblance to the peace and joy he knew to be home went up in flames. His dog was left behind when he fled with his parents to escape the nightmare his homeland had become. After his loss, he grew to develop a strong hatred for pets. Beyond his nuclear family circle, his heart was firmly closed to including pets.

And so that faithful morning, as he approached the woman and her furball again, he didn’t feel a sense of dread or back away when it started barking. Stunned was an understatement when he felt the searing pain from the bite on his thigh. His shorts was torn and blood poured from the wound down his leg, soaking his sock. She grabbed the still barking dog…..stammering apologies. He didn’t know someone so elderly could move so swiftly. She drove him to the emergency room. The fuzzball kept on yelping from the back seat where she had gingerly deposited it. His sneakers were soaked in blood and he spoke very little to her. His silence, he knew made her more nervous. He would not assure her it was alright. It was not alright. He was seething mad! His wound was stitched and he was given a couple of shots.

He was told by his room flat mate she called several times to inquire of his well being. She came around at times twice a day. He never responded to her visits. Never came out of his room. His flat mate asked him whether he planned on pressing charges against her. He worked for a law firm as a paralegal and mentioned he would refer him to a good attorney who would be more than happy to help, if he so desired. A few weeks later he took his run by the side of her house and saw the fuzzball running after a ball in the back yard. The next day, he came by again and threw a meat ball laced with a little “something” at the nuisance and it immediately went for it.

A couple of days later while lying on his bed reading a book, his flat mate came to his door to let him know she was there again, inquiring about him.

He met her by the front door, she was shuffling from one leg to the other, nervous, her eyes a little teary. She wanted to see how he was doing and wanted to apologize again. He invited her into the wide living room area and sat opposite her on his favorite arm chair. He felt no malice or resentment towards her and feigned shock when she informed him her dog had died in his sleep. She started to cry and wiped her red nose with the sleeve of her sweater. He offered her some tea and cookies. He was surprised he enjoyed her visit when she got up to leave. Her name was Eliza. No spouse, no children, all she had was Doughnut, the dog. He felt a twinge of remorse which quickly dissipated.

He escorted her to the door and bade her farewell. She should have kept it on a leash, he thought, as he went back to lay down on his bed.