The Taste of Bugs
by Shedrack Opeyemi Akanbi
I know they say you can’t go home again.
I just had to come back one last time.
—Miranda Lambert, ‘The House That Built Me.’
You’re eight when a night finds you in the verandah, eyes following bugs making confused revolutions around the light bulb. This is after you give up flicking them off pages of the book on your lap. You wonder how some of the bugs are foolish enough to hug the hot yellow light until they become roasted dots. A bug dives under your tongue and ends your thoughts. You splurt, splurt, splurt, but it hides behind your upper teeth. When you close your mouth, your lower teeth squash it liquids onto your tongue. The taste stays with you.
Now your tongue rolls as the tang of bug rises in your throat. You’re not standing under the light bulb of the verandah; you’re thirty metres away. Thirty metres into the street, behind an electric pole, looking at the front door you used to push open without care. You feel like you own the house even though the last time you called it home was twelve years ago.
The verandah light is fluorescent now, and its white glow teases your yellow memory. The bugs flying around the light look unchanged. Your ears ring with the voice of your mother from that night saying, “Your dinner’s getting cold, Bii.” You also hear the sound of your little brother crawling inside the house, tugging at everything your father is trying to keep away.
Humans, cars, and shadows slide in and out over the street, and you ache for a wave or a hi, but the neighborhood can’t remember your face. The bug-taste rises again and you can almost feel it, a mass on your tongue. You splurt as you take a step backward. Splurt, splurt, splurt, till you reach your hotel room.
You’re at the table with a bowl of cereal when your phone beeps. The email congratulates you on the success of your workshop application. You throw your nose up, close your eyes and sniff the air. But you fail at conjuring the smell you crave. Only the lavender scent of your room fills your nose. Days later, as you get off the plane you try again. This time you only draw in the luxuriant smell of the airport. In the taxi, on your way to the hotel hosting the workshop, you sit too close to the window. Each minute, you push your nose towards the half-closed glass. You see the driver stretching his neck at the rear-view mirror every time you sniff, but you don’t stop until you catch the smell. The smell that waved you off when your father drove a lorry out of this place twelve years ago, carrying you, mother, brother and all the things you thought made up your home. The glorious smell of fresh wood and wet grass. You know if you keep at it, you will also catch the waft left behind by the brazen harmattan season. The season you run around with boys haunting grasshoppers until your mother finds your ears, shout words into them about things girls shouldn’t do, before pulling them home.
The workshop ends tomorrow and another participant is asking why all you have written in the workshop is set in this place. Nineteen other heads turn to hear your answer. You offer a queasy smile. Nothing more.
Later when all of you raise glasses at the pool side, the lady who asked about your setting finds you.
“I’m liking this place,” she says.
“You know,” you say. “I kinda grew up here.”
“No way! Tell me about it.”
Your throat gurgles with a thousand words, you don’t know which one to voice. Should you tell her that the home you used to run to after school is just blocks away? What would she say if you tell her that you have gone there every night since the workshop, yet have been afraid to approach the front door? Would she find it interesting that this hotel you both stand in used to be an unpainted, unroofed abandoned building? And that it used to be a site for boys playing police and thief.
“Well, there’s a lot to say.”
It is time for the parting words. The voice of the facilitator emulsifies with the pictures in your head. You’re convincing yourself to go down the street to your old house, step on the verandah, knock on the front door, and convince the new owners that you’re up to nothing bad. You think of walking through the rooms like a tour guide, naming things, naming memories. Do the walls still have your finger prints? Does the tree shadowing your room’s window still sing softly? Does the ceiling still remember the day you read the last page of Purple Hibiscus and screamed your dream of becoming a writer at it? Can it echo your voice again and bear your testimony?
Now the room stirs. You stir out of your reverie, too. Chairs shift, handshake and hugs go round. Before you stand up, a hand softly lands on your shoulder.
“I don’t want to rush out of here,” says the setting-inquiring-lady. “If you don’t mind, could you take me round this place?”
You inhale all the cheer floating in the hall and exhale a smile big enough to hold a river. Yes, you will take her round this place, all of it highs and lows. But you will not take her to the front door of your former house until it is dark, until the fluorescent bulb on the verandah invites the bugs for a dance.
Shedrack Opeyemi Akanbi is a Nigerian, believer, and dreamer. He is currently reading for a B.A in History and International Studies at the University of Ilorin. His works have appeared on Praxis Magazine, Kalahari Review, The African Writers, The Lagos Review, EroGospel, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @ShedrackAkanbi.