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Elnathan John: Why you should never look into your mother’s drawers

‘Just show me everything you have,’ you say.

The first drawer has sequins, a new tape measure, her big turquoise marble ring that you have always wanted, two sewing needles stuck in a used MTN recharge card and a single key. You pick up the turquoise ring and slip it into your middle finger, taking note of the exact position of the ring- your mum pays attention to detail in a scary way. The ring looks perfect on you, you think. You strut up and down the room in mock model fashion making silly faces in the mirror.

‘But why would you turn your ringer off in the house?’

‘Q?’ you ask, a quiver in your voice.

Easy lunch. Then pool to burn calories. Went to see Q’s new gym at home. Impressive. I told myself no shenanigans. No resuming old habits. I hate feeling powerless, but with Q, you feel it’s all ok. Crazy how Q still knows every bit of my body…

You go quickly through paragraphs and pages looking for other occurrences of Q; through thoughts and feelings; through anxieties about weight and stretch marks; through resolutions to quit drinking; through unexplained frustrations about your father. You feel your blood rushing faster through your veins. Too much blood going too quickly to your heart. In her last entry on April 3, five days ago, you find the mysterious Q again.

‘For all.’


You pick up the big diary. Carefully with your finger you search for all names beginning with Q. You scan every page. Nothing. After many searches, the closest you find to Q is Sadiq. You know a Sadiq that is nicknamed Q.

‘Maggi,’ Noro, the housemaid calls out.

You have been snooping around your mum for three days now, waiting for her to leave her phone for a few minutes. Her phone is like an appendage to her body. Even if you get it, you still have to get past her lock code. You put your phone on silent and slip it into one of your sneakers in your room.

Is Q an older, richer man? Richer than dad? Or one of those young studs, young enough to date me? How long has this been going on? Does my brother look like dad? Do I?

You make a show of searching. You search the living room, the dining room, the kitchen; everywhere but your sneakers.

She brings out a transparent plastic box.

If this was all for the diaries, then dammit, I might as well read it, you say to yourself.

You do not answer. Slowly you release pressure from your injured finger and look at it. A blood clot is forming beneath the nail. Now you will have to wear coloured nail polish, which you do not like.

You have been snooping around your mum for three days now, waiting for her to leave her phone for a few minutes. Her phone is like an appendage to her body. Even if you get it, you still have to get past her lock code. You put your phone on silent and slip it into one of your sneakers in your room.

‘I have gone. Till tomorrow.’


The first entry on January 3 is short. Lidocaine. STUD 100. You whip out your smartphone and search the internet. As you scroll down and read, your eyes widen, your mouth assumes an O shape. The website you find says it is a desensitizer for men. It helps delay ejaculation. You struggle to suppress the combined thoughts of your father and quick ejaculations. You flip the page.

Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.


‘How much?’

‘Mum I can’t find my phone, can you please dial my number?’

by Elnathan John

‘Yes, Queen speaking, who is this?’ she says.

The sales girl looks at you to make sure you aren’t joking. She gets the big calculator and starts counting, the surprise never leaving her face. This is an early eighteenth birthday gift for yourself. A box of sixty-seven hairclips.

‘Hello,’ the voice comes, crisp, clear.

Elnathan John blogs from www.ElnathanJohn.Blogspot.com

You drop the call. Grit your teeth. And cry.

You walk into your room and quickly search for Q in her contacts. It is there sitting pretty with a number beneath it. You take out your phone from your sneakers and save the number. As Q.

You check her drawers anyway, starting with the one by the full length mirror adjacent her bed. There used to be two beds but your mum and dad sleep in separate rooms now. Your mum never throws anything away; perhaps you will find something from when she still had hair.


‘Shit!’ you say.

Her voice adds to your pain. You would scream at her but she really has done nothing but walk in with confident footsteps like your mum.


‘How many do you need?’ the sales girl without eyebrows asks.

‘Mum can you just keep dialing while I check?’

‘For which one?’

‘I think I put it on vibrate.’

It all feels so wrong, but you will not be able to sleep well if you do not finish this.

‘Found it!’ you scream.

Met Q at the gym today. Flirty as ever. Not a good time to be running into Q especially as the one you are bound to is refusing to be reasonable.

The bottom drawer is always locked. You try the key in the top drawer and it opens. There are two diaries. You have always been taught never to look at another person’s diary, not even your brother’s which he started keeping right after his eighth birthday. Keeping a diary has never appealed to you. You are staring at the open drawer battling with your conscience. The front door creaks open and you hear footsteps. You jam your index finger trying to slam the drawer shut. The pain travels in quick circular motion from your finger through your entire body to your head and back to your finger. Tears fill your eyes and you double over squeezing the finger in your left palm.

This is the plan: your mum doesn’t like to feel like she is being made to do something.

‘What?’ you shout.

You compare Q’s number with Sadiq’s. They are different. You hide your number and call Q. As it starts to ring, you feel faint. The caller tune is Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech. Suddenly you realize, you do not know what to say to Q, what to ask him. You feel cramps in your stomach. Dozens of thoughts cram themselves into these few seconds in a way you did not know was possible.

The bigger diary is the High Court diary mum gets every year from her friend who is a registrar. In it she writes shopping lists, lists of her debtors and how much they owe, addresses and phone numbers. The smaller diary- the black New Yorker desk diary she ordered from America with her name crested in silver- is the one that has a lot of writing. You sit on the hard bed.

‘Here, do it yourself,’ she says.

Your mum does not use hairclips. She has been cutting her hair low since she had Jang nine years ago. She even went totally bald once. ‘Felt like doing something revolutionary,’ she said. Your dad almost passed out when he saw it. You couldn’t tell whether it was one of her happy or depressed spells. She did crazy things when she was excited. Crazy things when she was depressed.

‘Ok,’ she says and dials. ‘It’s ringing.’

You are looking for a hairclip. It exasperates you how you can never find one when you need it. Your mum hates it when you try to share her stuff. You have an allowance. You shouldn’t cultivate the habit of borrowing. It’s bad for a woman. Aunt Ryan in Jos thinks your mum is just stingy. She has been like that since they were kids, she says.


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