MAGDALENA by Yewande Omotoso
I’m walking through Oliver Tambo Airport. I’m looking around. People everywhere. Ahead is the guy who was behind me at the Kulula check in counter. Then there are two girls walking alongside me. One is overweight. I quicken my step and as I walk past and listen into their conversation (pretending not to) the fat one is lamenting how men chase her and how she can’t stand them lusting after her. I’m amazed she lies so easily. I’d be stuttering. Or maybe I’m the asshole. I mean just because she’s fat doesn’t mean no one chases her. I look over my shoulder at them, Fattie and her friend are walking just a few centimeters behind me on my left. Could she be lying? I hate liars. Magdalena never ever lies. Even worse Fattie might be telling a joke. I don’t understand jokes. I guess I’m that person with no sense of humour. And that, I’ve noticed, is a major setback in life. If you pay attention you’d see that everywhere you go everyone demands a ‘sense of humour’. Everyone wants their lover to have one; work colleagues, family members will like you better if you have one. At this point in my life I am now quite clear that I have no sense of humour and you know what, it’s fine. I’m not half as pathetic as people who have no sense of humour but pretend that they do.
But none of that matters. I’m in an airport. I’ve got all these appendages attached to me. I’ve got Magdalena’s sewing machine held in my right hand. Strung around my left shoulder is the hat box with the ashes in it. And with the same hand I’m dragging behind me the suitcase on wheels. I’ve put the strap of my handbag around my neck and the morning’s Citizen is rolled and jutting out of my jacket pocket like a broken jack-in-the-box. Each time I take a step it slaps against my thigh as if chiding me for something I did wrong.
We’re all walking and then we stop and people start forming a line in front of the boarding gate. My legs ache, I’ve walked so much. Last time I walked this much Magdalena and I were on the beach. In Mauritius. No sharks but plenty randy men. Men are always looking at Magdalena but she’s cool about it, you know. She doesn’t fuss. Doesn’t pay them any attention, we just kept walking, she and I. Men don’t look at me but that’s not important. It’s Magdalena they want. She’s not fat and she doesn’t lie. And many times when she says stuff, people laugh.
I feel something now. A suddenly kind of squashed feeling like the space has gotten tighter. You ever have that feeling? Like your mind is fizzing. Like your life can just drain away. You think of all the great things you’ve done and that’s not enough. So you think of all the places you’ve enjoyed and that’s not enough. You think of the most wonderful things that have been said to you and still that’s not enough. You think of the people you love who you know love you back and even this is not enough. The space gets small and your throat dries out.
I drop all my things. I leave the sewing machine and the Citizen and the hat box with the ashes in it. Magdalena’s ashes. She wouldn’t mind so much. I look for an exit sign. I push open the door and sure enough an alarm goes off. I am so annoyed by this. Only after I’ve closed the door behind me do I notice an interesting tussle taking place against the airport wall. He is a very tall and muscular man with hair on his back. I think it’s that hard spiky kind like a caterpillar but I’ll have to feel it to know for sure. He’s heaving, she’s sighing, her legs coiled around his naked thighs. I stand rooted. I’ve never seen this before. I’m about to scream when the doors open, strange men in uniform grab me. It’s painful how they hold your arms like that; grip the skin like they want to tear it off. Is it like that to make love? Rough love; tear-each-other-apart love. I point at the public fornicators but the men in white don’t seem to notice.
Back inside Dr. Pillay – I thought I knew the fat woman from somewhere – says, I was worried Magdalena, it’s fine really, she says, just let me know next time. Then she turns round and scolds the two nurses for not keeping an eye on me. The plane is ready for us now. We get in line. The man who was behind me at the Kulula check-in counter, nurse number one in front of me; Nurse number two, the woman who was skinnering with Dr. Pillay, behind me; The good doctor herself, fat as ever, stands beside me. I want to scream but I am almost certain that, at this very moment, it will be highly inappropriate.
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