James lay on the couch of his shared home. Motionless. Staring at the stained white ceiling of his too-small living room. Tayo was in the bedroom, with his latest conquest. Above the loud noises of the voices in his head, he could just hear her moans, his grunts, their friction.
He was used to Tayo’s adventures. He knew when to leave the room when to leave the house. He knew how to praise him for his expertise in wooing women, he knew never to speak of the chain that dangled loosely around his neck. He knew Tayo, and he knew that he would not be coming out of his room tonight.
The thought gave him relief, rest. He had the living room to himself.

Amongst the countless things he could do at that moment – the most important of which was to text his overbearing girlfriend to remind her that he loved her – he chose to lay down, stomach up and heart free on the damp couch of his dark sitting room.
The memories came, like he knew they would, and he welcomed them. Just like how his mother welcomed all the numerous guests that visited his home that year.

“Welcome, sit down” she would say, with a weariness that was evident in the tremble of her lip and fidgeting of her fingers.
His mother was, the strongest woman he knew. There was no other way to explain it. She carried the world you see. Her world that comprised of just James and his father. She hoisted them unto her back daily, like a primary school student would lift and strap on his back pack – with a feeling of obligation so familiar that it was almost not felt.

James never called her anymore, he couldn’t. He knew that he would not be able to stand her voice, her soft accented English echoed in his mind. “Ezigbo, everything will be fine oh?” She would go on to talk about her day, easily ignoring all the numerous elephants in the room. She would never say that she hadn’t eaten that day. She would never say that her rent was due, that her headaches were much more than fatigue and age.
She would never complain that he never sent anything home, that he never even came home.

His mother would end the call with a prayer from her small chapped lips.
He blinked, once, twice.
He reached out to the floor just in front of the couch and stroked his fingers softly on the familiar metal of his crutches.
He knew them like he knew his legs. He knew the dent that he formed from hitting it on the wall in anger. He traced the burnt patch on the foam-padded handle where he mistakenly dropped his blunt.

James remembered a time where he was just like Tayo, jumping from girl to girl simply because he could.
He was handsome, the kind of handsome that was concluded at first sight. His neat beard and dark lashes made his face look interesting – interesting enough to swoon over. But if any of the girls that admired him had bothered to look closer, they would notice that his nose didn’t quite fit his face and he had sleepy eyes that he thought always made him look dull.
He covered his insecurities with confidence and doused them in charm. He painted such a beautiful image of himself on his walls, that people were almost always convinced that that was what he was. Charming, beautiful, confident.

With this charm he walked up to girls and flirted seamlessly. He walked into offices and got a job just four months after his graduation.
He was in his prime, he was living the day dream that he created in his head since before he could remember.
Until everything came crashing down. Literally.
None of them had seen the fire coming – in his 25 year old mind a house burning down was something that just couldn’t happen to him. Until it did. Until it took his father and took his leg.

Suddenly, James wasn’t breathing. He wasn’t seeing. He was only feeling.
He was feeling everything all at once, anger, pain, grief, depression, loss.
He willed his leg to move, his left leg. But it just lay there warning him with a twinge of pain to stop trying, to stop attempting. To stop everything.

The tears fell, despite his fruitless attempts to keep them at bay, and he clenched his teeth. He clenched his eyes. He could hear his father’s voice clearly.
He was ten years old, and he had just fallen from the rusty bike that had lived in his house longer than he had. He ran to his father, Jide, in tears and dramatically explained how he fell while struggling to make himself audible. His father looked at him firmly and rested his hands on the injured ten year old’s shoulder.
“Enough of that Chukwudi. Clean those tears Osiso! Real men do not cry. Look at me!” He said and raised the boys quivering chin. “Real men never cry.”

But he cried that day, silently, on the battered brown couch of a house he couldn’t afford to pay rent for, and he did not clean his tears.
For at that moment, he stopped being a man and allowed himself to be human.

The tears fell, despite his fruitless attempts to keep them at bay, and he clenched his teeth. He clenched his eyes. He could hear his father’s voice clearly.

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