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The glue habit started a week after you saw the woman. It was born of simple childish equivalence, but what can you do about it now? Your brother, Benjamin, once told you that soap cleanses impurities. He had seen someone’s mother stuff a bar of Dove soap into their open mouth because they’d said naughty words—“curse words,” Benjamin called them. Washing their mouth with soap removed their foulness. Permanently.

You find yourself unable to shake his story out of your mind. If soap cleanses, then paste must hold tenuous things in place.

You are the only shifty-eyed child who eats lumpy paste from the arts and craft jar while your teacher’s eyes and hands police rowdier classmates. The gluey taste and consistency sit in the lowest part of your belly by lunchtime, like sticky lead. When you inevitably vomit odd colors and textures into the school toilet, a sense of short-lived, gratifying relief overcomes your stomach and seven-year-old brain.

No one ever sees you scooping the glue from the jar or wiping your face when you’re full to the brim with Top Bond. Every trace of translucent adhesive is banished from your lips. You have always been good at hiding things, haven’t you? Remember the broken set of Polish crockery from the old house? Weren’t you clever for first stuffing the shards into strips of cloth and then three yellow and black nylon bags, positioning the sharp ends away from your soft palms?

You snuck out of the compound, flung the package of powder-blue fragments into a smelly dustbin four houses away from your family’s bungalow, and walked home confidently. Your mother didn’t ask if you broke the dishes or lost them. She interrogated your older brother, Benjamin, with her koboko, the leather whip he reverently christened Mister Do Good. Did you feel bad when he bawled and swore, with the ardor of a person wronged, that he had no idea how her plates vanished? Maybe a little, but not severely enough to confess and take your share of the koboko.

Glue isn’t the tastiest thing to eat. Not anything like the mouth-watering ofe oha your mother makes. You always lick your stainless-steel bowl clean on ofe oha nights. Eba isn’t too scratchy when it is dunked in the velvety soup. And you hate eba. It makes your throat tickle when you swallow.

The glue has a distinct scent of dusty chemicals and paper. You wish you could tell your father about your embarrassing compulsion, your inability to turn away from the colossal white tub of paste. He might have answers. Your father knows everything. He knows why snails crawl passively around the verandah without speed in the spirals of their fragile shells.

He is the only one that can sweep his brown hand over the matted fur of the feral cats that slink out of dried gutters and cardboard shelters. The cats never unsheathe their hooked claws, and your father’s skin remains perfectly unmarred, in contrast to the fleshy ribbons your knuckles become when you try to pet them. His mastery over Hausa is flawless. Your tongue clumsily wavers under the mass of the lyrical syllables, so his polyglottic skill is impressive.

The problem with talking to him about it is that you must first acknowledge “the thing.“ The tall back of a strange woman who couldn’t have been your mother because she was working late at the hospital again, cooking staggering amounts of fried fish and groundnut stew. If it was not your mother, why was she propped spread-eagled on your kitchen barstool, leaning familiarly on the vinyl countertop?

Benjamin was still playing with his friends on the quiet side of the cul-de-sac, laser-focused on tiles, cards, and colorful dice. The game bored and confused you. You ran home without him, jelly sandals in your hands and a piece of sugarcane between your teeth.

Your father always insisted that you call the landline hanging from the kitchen wall before you left the neighbors for safety purposes. So many things in this world survive on the bones of vulnerable children. Careless drivers. Bland adults with questionable intentions. Wild creatures that somehow knew when little girls and boys marched unaccompanied mere feet from their own homes. But you weren’t afraid. Besides, the sun was still out, and you walked very fast. Your father would understand.

The garage door was wide open when you finally strolled into the house. You could hear the murmur of voices, a low-pitched rumble that was your father’s, and another hoarse whisper you didn’t recognize. Something told you maybe you should be quiet. The soles of your feet longed to spring into a jog. You wanted to find your father and proudly share the lovely piece of sugarcane the neighbor gave you.

But you didn’t. You tiptoed to the kitchen and held your breath, peeping around the acacia doorframe to see who the other voice belonged to. It was coming from a woman with an endless back. She was taller than your father, and he was always the highest head in any room you watched him enter. The woman was blathering on in abrupt bursts, tangled pleas that made little sense to you.

You must come home. I’ve given you enough time, the woman said.

Not yet, not yet. They are too young, your father responded.

Was I not young when you went away? Come home, the woman’s impatient rebuttal.

The confusing dialogue started over, and their clashing words bounced about the otherwise silent kitchen, ping-ponging from one end of the counter where your father stood to the other where the woman sat. Where did she want your father to go? Would he take you and Benjamin and your mother with him? Was it on an excursion like the one you attended with your class earlier that summer?

Your father tried to hold the tall woman’s hand, but her spindly fingers balled into an inflexible fist. She shook her head and turned away from him, incanting those words repeatedly, unswervingly, come home.

You have turned that memory inside and out, rinsing it over to confirm what your eyes saw, and your ears heard, forcing yourself to recollect the repugnant stench that parcelled itself into the house’s clean air. Before that evening in the kitchen, you had never seen a person grow so rapidly, spreading monstrously from floor to ceiling. It couldn’t have been possible. But it did happen.

Shooting up suddenly and unnaturally must have been unbearable. The tall woman, taller now, bellowed like an embittered animal, her chin tucked into her chest as she stretched upwards until the crown of her head brushed against the kitchen’s ceiling. The room became even danker and how it smelled!

Your father was unperturbed, calm in the face of an unfolding nightmare.

Adaora, he said.

Adaora howled louder, pressing her hands to her ears, the size of dinner trays.

I promise to come soon, nwa m, my child. I can’t leave them yet. But I will come.

His oath washed over you, saturating the vibrating cells in your body with a bleak sadness. The giantess, Adaora, turned a yellow eye in his direction at last.

This is not your place. Staying here will only make things worse. 

I have no choice. They are too young, too unprepared.

No one is prepared for neglect, Ogunabali.

With that final dispensation of sage advice, Adaora imploded into nothingness.

 

She still invades your lucid daydreams, her cascading limbs lengthening beyond the tight space of your thoughts. While your brother dozes and your parents nestle together on the living room couch after picking you up from primary school, you watch them fiercely, prepared to fight off the woman with the tall back who plans to hew your family in unmendable splinters.

You know you can never tell your mother or Benjamin about “the thing“ you shouldn’t have seen. They wouldn’t believe you. So, glue washes down your throat as you sit uncomfortably at your school desk, pushing that secret further down, waiting for the day your father would implode too.

You are haplessly stuck.


Editor: Aigner Loren Wilson

First Reader: Sarah Davidson

Copy Editors: Copy Editing Department

Accessibility: Accessibility Editors



Edidiong Uzoma Essien, @the_ibibio_bibliophile, is a Nigerian writer and digital marketing professional living on the U.S. East Coast. She has been previously published in Brittle Paper. Essien enjoys reading, creating content for her book review page, playing video games, and surrendering herself to the whims of her 3-year-old cat.
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