At World’s End
I’m giving Kayode Last-Name-Pending a pretty accomplished blowjob in the back of my rented Subaru when Jesus Christ returns. He’s a theatrical man (Jesus, I mean; Kayode, I met minutes ago at a bar), announcing the onset of rapture in a whirl of lightning and wind. No trumpets, though, so Ma was only half-right. Rapture lasts five seconds. We are flanked by mangroves in a deserted stretch of the woods, so we miss the immediate consequences of sudden vanishing. Driverless cars mowing pedestrians, leashed dogs barking at empty air, spines crushed by panicked feet. As the skies calm, we separate, our faces alarmed in the moonlight. We do not know yet that we have been left behind.
Kayode says that one hundred years ago, a flutist moved to his father’s village. By day, the flutist was a nuisance preaching about the One True God, delegating Amadioha, Agwu, even child-gifting Ala to the realm of horseshit. By night, though, he played his flute at the square, finely carved wood bewitching every woman and child to dance. Soon after, verdant rows of maize blackened overnight. Livestock collapsed and rotted. After the streams turned a foul red, swallowing swimming children, a flock of famished men encircled the flutist. No villager intervened. Perhaps they wanted to see if his special New God offered protection. They watched as his flute shattered beneath boots, as snot bubbles popped above his pleading lips, as the cutlass flashed. His body was plucked clean for meat until the blight subsided, but there remained–forever–a silence where his flute once sang.
Cars and keke napeps stretch backward into a smoke-plumed horizon. Cooking flesh reeks off a danfo bus burning on the median. Kayode disembarks from the Subaru, and there is no question that I must follow. The roadsides are clogged too. A gray-haired man drops to his knees, arms raised high. Were mu bikozie, he shrieks at the clouds. But they do not take him away. Morning light punches holes in the sky when we find the bungalow with shattered windows. The door is ajar. Kayode can’t move inside until he takes my hand. We find rectangular imprints on floral wallpapers where photos once hung. Empty closets and freezers too. A heat-charred pot remains. Shelves filled with books about the Biafran war. A pink bicycle slants lopsided against a pink door. And in the cobwebbed, unfurnished basement lies a motionless cat. Poison, Kayode thinks, bending to stroke its patchy fur. The words trapped in my throat tumble out as vomit. Kayode takes a step back.
Kayode, too, has wandered the lands searching for a nameless thing. Not family because he learned the worth of blood when his parents found his journal–those detailed sketches of men on men–and decided to send him to some camp. He emptied their safe of its naira stacks while they slept and vanished forever. Not intellectual fulfillment because he only lasted six months at the university in Kaduna. Not hedonism either. When the cruise boat left the shores, a handsome man on the deck bar introduced himself in a way that suggested he’d stick to Kayode’s side all week. Kayode jumped overboard, swimming and swimming until he was back on solid ground.
No new storms rip the skies apart. The bungalow owners do not return. Kayode prefers the floorboards to the bed, so we shift as one against the hardwood. Sleep is elusive, so we memorize the landscapes of our lips, which soon becomes the kind of mutual crying that persists until no tears are left. His breathing is ragged. I hold his air in my lungs. We take long walks to chase the setting sun. We return from scavenges with carts of canned tuna. We find barbershops turned churches, crowds overspilling onto several lanes of gravel. They sing with their whole bodies, sweating, wailing in tongues. Atop a bridge, four men link their arms and jump. In the splatter, it is impossible to discern what belonged to whom. We argue: friends or brothers? Maybe strangers. There is a video online of a famously antigay pastor vanishing mid-sermon with half his congregation. Turns out Ma was right about that too. Kayode turns off his phone and goes down on me, his motion surprising in its confidence.
I have fled men I loved, men who loved me, brothers, sisters, my own potential. I used to drive hundreds of kilometers to nowhere. On the plains of Sokoto, at the last full moon, I found a forest. There, I found a pit full of dead parakeets, but for one on the edge, still fluttering. When I clasped Ifesinachi in my palm, he flapped his wings as if trying to flee. I wiped his bloodied beak with the edge of my sleeve. On the drive to the nearest veterinarian, I thought of how discovery can be so particular as to feel predestined. How predestination can feel like purpose. This had to be mine–nursing Ifesinachi to full health, granting him new life within the remnants of my world. Miyetti Veterinary gleamed in the distance when Ifesinachi squawked one last time. Still, I went in, plopped his dead body on the desk of a stunned receptionist–he is my whole world; fix him now.
There are no stars tonight. We are swaying barefoot on a hammock in the backyard when I mention my renewed fear of dying. Kayode Salau floats a theory that has been on his mind for a while. Maybe each of us belongs to the domain of a certain force. Like the raptured souls belong to Jesus, but the rest of us belong elsewhere–isn’t that why we exist? To solve for x, even if the search destroys us, makes broth of our bones. I want to say we don’t exist for any reason, but my ear is pressed to Kayode’s chest, and beneath the skin, there is the unmistakable melody of a flutist’s song. We rise–me and him–and dance until our stone-pierced soles bleed.
Vincent Anioke was born and raised in Nigeria but now lives in Canada. His short stories have appeared in Split Lip Magazine, Carve, Pithead Chapel, and Bending Genres, among others. He is the 2021 Austin Clarke Fiction Prize Winner and was also shortlisted for the 2021 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Find him on Twitter at @AniokeVincent.
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