Hot Metal Bridge

Current Issue : Number Twenty-Five

Colorful Eyes

BY LOLA OPATAYO

Six-thirty. Twenty minutes on one spot, and I can see the long line of taillights snaking all the way up to the traffic light. At this rate, the children will be fast asleep by the time I’m home. Benji will be waiting, somewhat angry, but really worried.

In the back of my taxi, my passenger stares out of the window. From the rearview mirror I observe her carefully made-up face. Red thin lips, clear fair skin, oval face. Dark curly hair like the Fulanis. Her eyes dart back and forth between her phone and the tall buildings. She adjusts herself in her seat, looks out, adjusts herself again.

This job of conveying people always leaves me with questions. Who are they? Are they happy? I have to know, and so I look into their eyes. Everything is in the eyes.

She fingers the silver brooch on her green blouse, the remnants of a smile on her lips. But her eyes are the same, nervous. Her full eyelashes flutter and it reminds me of Maami and the year she blinked like a Barbie doll. It was as if her eyelids were constantly being electrocuted. Up and down, up and down they would go whenever I looked at her. And when she noticed me watching, she would turn away. She never wanted me to see what was in her eyes.

The lady pulls her silky hair away from her face and I glance at my own reflection. Stringy dreadlocks, bare face. Traffic momentarily eases out, we move a few hundred meters.

“Your date must be waiting.”

A weak smile.

“Don’t worry, you look nice.”

Her laughter is shallow. “What makes you think I’m worried?”

“It’s in your eyes, everything is in the eyes.”

Again the depthless laughter. “So you think you know me?”

I look at her, she looks at me, she looks away. Her eyes harden.

“I have to find my own happiness. I’m tired of just wanting…”

The hardness leaves, softness creeps in. Her shoulders sag.

“Just for once, I need a man who knows what I want.”

Night is slowly descending, pedestrians mill about the roadside market. Bodies weary from the day’s accompaniments. I don’t hear the cacophony of blaring horns, irritable drivers and hollering bus conductors. All I see is the bluish glow just before the darkness.

“You think I’m a bad person for going to another man, don’t you?”

“No.”

She laughs. “You can say it, I don’t really care. I don’t expect you to understand.”

The road has become a spectacle of glowing colors. Red, blue, yellow, green.

“You’re right, I don’t know what that passion is.”

“You’ve never had sex?”

“I’m married, with children.”

“So…?”

It’s harder to see each other’s eyes now, but there is beauty outside. Flashing lights, moving lights, still lights. Colorful textiles woven in intricate patterns—stripes, flowers, checks. The swaying silk blouse, the blue checked shirt, yellow and black striped buses, sleek, black Toyotas, light skinned people, dark skinned people, the polka dot mini skirt, piles of yellow oranges and red tomatoes, white bread, brown suya. Light reflecting color in a brilliant harmony.

In the year that Maami blinked uncontrollably, I began to see strange things living in my father’s eyes. Malevolence, pity, grief. Then we travelled to our village, just the two of us. That evening we were visited by two, stoic middle-aged women. They donned dark green aprons, and the curtains were drawn. He looked at nothing, standing still like the grey furniture. His presence insignificant but necessary. An old towel was spread on the cement floor. These blank-eyed women of incredible strength, they pinned my arms down and pried my legs open. I still remember the silver glint of the razorblade, so decisively precise. And the brightness of the raw imperfection that used to be my pleasure spot. They wanted to tame my passion, my father didn’t want an illegitimate child.

Maami started to blink afterwards. My father’s eyes became red with the bottle.

From the back of the car, I hear gasps, words cut off in stupefaction.

“I can’t know what that passion is, so Benji is good to me, he makes it quick.”

“I’m so sorry…”

We drive on, past the traffic lights, off the major road and into the residential areas. I pull the car to a stop and turn to her. We stare at one another. In her eyes, I see pity and a tinge of shame. I hope that she sees past my graying hairline and oily face. I hope she sees all the colors and lights I have stored in my eyes.


Lola Opatayo is an editor and blogger (at lolaopatayo.com where she blogs writing tips, resources and news). Her work has appeared in Obsidian. She is a recipient of the Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award, and is currently working on a collection of short stories. Follow her on Twitter here.