Africa Writes have teamed up with Jacaranda Books to bring you a delightful monthly read from the publisher’s Twenty in 2020 releases. In June we are spotlighting Bad Love by Maame Blue.
Here’s a short blurb: #TwentyIn2020 romance Bad Love is the story of London born Ghanaian Ekuah Danquah and her tumultuous experience with first love. Marked by this experience, she finds herself at a crossroads – can she fall in love again, or does the siren song of her first love still call?
If you’d like a 10% discount, head over to Jacaranda’s website and use the code ‘AWNEWS‘ to claim it! Jacaranda Books successfully crowdfunded with Knights Of and Spread the Word to support inclusive independent publishers hit worst by the COVID-19 economic crisis. You can read more about their Inclusive Indies campaign here. #InclusiveIndies
I am not a romantic. I do not know how to tell those kinds of stories, the ones filled with magic and laughter and a purple hue. Romance has never connected with me in that way. But love—hard, bad, rough love—well, I could speak on that all day. And if I did, it would be to speak of my first love: the roughness of his hands, the bristle of his voice, the tender way he kissed me. And it was the kisses most of all that kept me. They were things that began small and playful, growing in depth until we were tracing portraits of each other with our tongues.
At the time it felt like we were creating art, but later when I tried to recall it, it turned in my mind into a medi- ocre type of pornography; like what we had could only be described as a cheap approximation of what it actually was. But then, my thoughts were often in a tangled mess when it came to him, as I tried to make sense of what we were and what we were not, and how overwhelming it all was.
I remember seeing him once, on a night of no particular importance. He was wearing a blue polo shirt that I liked, with a yellow bird on an imitation pocket. I looked down at his feet, mismatched socks like always, one foot resting on top of the other. He leant against his dining table, arms crossed in a defiant stance, his broad shoulders blocking the crescent moon shining behind him. He was a picture, my picture. I wanted to walk across the room, unfold his arms, place his hands on my face and feel a closeness.
But I knew I wouldn’t do it, remaining instead frozen to the spot, not wanting him to know what was going on inside my head because I feared he would find a way to use it against me. So, I stood in his living room doorway, slowly placing my bag on the floor and unzipping my coat. It was past midnight, I was exhausted, and I was certain that he didn’t care. A couple of hours ago I had been snug in my bed, looking forward to a good night’s sleep. We had exchanged a few text messages, and then it all got a bit hazy. It happened sometimes, our almost two decades of living not yet suffi- cient enough for us to learn how to communicate properly. He said something, I took it one way, he meant it another, I lashed out at him and he went silent, stopped replying completely. He knew I couldn’t stand it when it happened. I used to just fight fire with fire, switch off my phone and respond with the same wall of silence. It caused me nothing but pain, and I could never be sure that he was enduring the same thing. So eventually I decided to cut the bullshit and just go to him.
The journey from my parents’ house in Lewisham to Dee’s student flat in Holloway hadn’t been an easy one. I had had to sneak out, as I was then only a semester break resident, nothing permanent anymore about my status in the house I had grown up in. Plus, catching the bus that late at night was always risky, and I found myself the subject of a verbal barrage from two drunk boys, demanding “show us your bits!” after I dropped my bus pass and bent down to pick it up. I instinctively moved closer to the driver for safety, and thankfully the two pub crawlers got off the bus soon after. I imagined Dee being there, trying to defend my honour, only to have his efforts rebuffed by me telling him I wasn’t a damsel in distress. I could hear his response in my head.
“Eh-kwee-ah Dan-kwah! Strong woman, you don’t need me eh?”
I smiled in spite of myself at the thought. The echo of his imitated and exaggerated Nigerian accent splitting through his London twang always moved me to warmth. And the way he dragged out the syllables of my name, Ekuah, as if every letter was the most important. My reply was often predictable.
But none of that had actually happened, and instead we were exchanging silent looks in his living room. I took a seat in the armchair he and his flatmates had found on the street on a night out. He had had the good sense to clean it, germa- phobe that he was. I stroked the arms of it as if they were his own, willing him with my eyes to come over to me.
I took a bus in the dead of night to see you, the least you can do is walk across your living room and sit with me.
He wouldn’t move though, and I already knew that. He never took his eyes off me, just pulled out one of his dining chairs and sat down. Stubborn bastard. He had this knowing smile on his face too, like he’d won our silent battle and was waiting for me to admit defeat. But I had won the minute he pressed the buzzer and let me into his building. I think he thought I was angry, but I wasn’t. This was one of those rare moments between us where I could just enjoy what we were, take a breath, because we were about to make up after a fight, which meant we’d survived another storm. I already knew where the night would end.
So instead, I used the time to study his face, his subtle expressions, his physical habits, miniscule to the untrained eye. He had grown the beginnings of a beard in the days I hadn’t seen him, and it cast a faint shadow on his throat. His fingers were making a tight fist, as if he was anxious about something, whilst his eyes said something else. They were bright chocolate-brown pools, with a hunger and hope in them that I suspect was present even when he was a young boy. He used them to survey me: my face, my chest and stomach, and then rested his gaze fully on my hands. I remained settled in the chair, ready to sleep there if needed. I had crossed enough ground that night, it was now his turn.
He continued to stare at my empty hands and I began to feel uncomfortable, like there was something in them that he wanted, needed. And then slowly his face softened, and he ran his hands across the back of his neck in a tiresome motion. I realised that I had never seen that look on his face, in the year or so that we had been in and out of each other’s pockets. He looked solemn, resigned, something tired and weary about the way he pulled himself up from the dining chair. He stood as if ready to walk towards me, but paused.
I had been wanting him to yield all evening, but never expected it to happen, it wasn’t like him. Usually I would go to his bedroom, climb into his bed, wait for him to follow me, and know that I had that night forfeited the battle between us again. I would initiate the first kiss, the first touch, and lose.
But this time, it was as if there had been a sudden, uncomfortable shift within him that was immediate and all consuming. He took the steps needed towards me finally, before kneeling beside the chair I was now curled into. He gently pulled my hands away from my knees and kissed them, each one in turn. Then he buried his face in my lap, closed his eyes, and remained silent. I ran my hands, now free, along his shoulders, his neck, his black, baby-soft afro hair.
His scent elicited in me the kind of happiness I could never measure or make any real sense of. I loved him so much in that moment that I was unsure how much longer I could stand it for.
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Image of Maame Blue: Abi Oshodi Photography