Funke was smoking, her nose flaring, grey smoke curling elegantly and swirling through the still air. Usually, she smoked to annoy Somto, her boyfriend, to watch his lips curl disdainfully as he spoke about the dangers of smoking, the hazards of lung cancer, as though she did not know what smoking did to people. But now, Somto had become an ex, a frozen face in a phone photograph, a shadow in place of solid things so she no longer smoked to annoy Somto. But she smoked to burn memories.
Before she and Somto fell apart, before she shouted at Somto for cheating on her and lying, before Somto packed up his bags and left in the middle of a searing afternoon that made aluminum plates feel like hot metal discs, she smoked White London cigarettes, flicking the lighter over the brown end before she lit the cigarette and watched the smoke flare. She chose White London cigarettes because it tasted like smoky mint, because after she and Somto had sex on the bed or under the bathroom shower, her tongue tasted like mint, her mind dulled by a haze that felt like smoke. Same way she chose colour purple as her favorite colour because life with Somto felt like being immersed in a bowl of crushed purple Bougainvillea.
On the day Somto left, Funke did not taste the mint on her tongue. Her mind was not dulled by smoke. But she was lucid, saw clearly, felt clearly and as Somto left the keys on the television, she did not run after him with the need to forgive, to accommodate wrongs. She wanted to be free, to live without Somto, to wake up without looking at Somto's guilt-bedecked face. So, after Somto left, she soaked the bedsheets with hypo and detergent, she re-washed the plates and mopped the brown floor until it gleamed. Then she boiled hot water and scrubbed herself until the back of her neck felt soft, like the skin of a baby's palm. When she stepped out and wore her clothes, she knew she did not need Somto, did not need his self-righteous smoking-kills lectures. So, she went out and bought a new packet of Benson & Hedges cigarettes. The gold paper felt crisp, signified sparkly renewal, and she made gold her favorite colour. Benson & Hedges had a sharp mint flavour, a flavour of defiance, not the tilting mint of White London that depended on smoke to make her feel like a cloud.
Ashes swirled to the floor and the space above her head was clouded with smoke. But Funke did not bother about this. If Somto were there with her, he would hold his nostrils pressed together, wave frantically at the smoke like a visiting stranger and talk about people who coughed until they spluttered crimson blood. And she would feel sorry and burn out the half-smoked cigarette and hand it to Somto gently. And they would hug, Somto's embrace feeling like the fluttering of butterflies. But she did not want to dwell on that, on the high rise of Somto's eyebrows or the fullness of his lips. That was why she was smoking, inhaling and exhaling, because somewhere in the defiant mint, in the thick smoke that made her eyes water slightly, she felt Somto burning, his memories becoming one with the ashes and falling down to the floor in powdery cigarette dust.
Kunle Ladi Ologunro '15