SCREENSHOTS
by Anthony Nonso Dim

Episode One

The first Sunday after your thirtieth birthday in July was the day you dashed into your small apartment with one hand pressed into the middle of your buttocks to keep a hole shut. Although you rushed, your gait was unsteady, as though one of your legs had grown shorter – it mostly happened when you were pressed. Heading to your desk you grabbed a roll of toilet papers in a scrambling rush, panting as you made your way to the toilet where you winced and pouted until you sweated, and every object in the world at that moment trembled out of focus as if in a blur.
It didn’t come out even though you could see on your reflection in the tiled walls that the veins of your neck were pronounced like roots of a plant. You slapped the tiled wall on your right, groaned breathlessly. Your body released a loud fast fart instead, the string sound of a faulty bass guitar. The smell didn’t make you feel light-headed as other days. Your eyes rather shone in surprise at this sound, you would have said “Who did that?” if you had not been alone. The stuff wouldn’t come out still even though you gasped like a woman in labor and your mouth had been opened to capacity.
Now you were in-between feeling disturbed and feeling confused about this witless paradox: you had rushed to the toilet because of this, and yet it chooses not to come out.
You felt pangs of pains like someone was pushing a sharp stone into your anus and you wanted to fight back. Your stomach roared.
In this desperate struggle you now understood why it had been said that your neighbors had sung praise and worship while groaning in toilet. You regretted that you had laughed it off when Mama Chioma told you, you wondered whether this experience was karma as a result of your obliviousness and lack of empathy.
“Heeelphie!, Heeelp mieeey!” you groaned “Help hieeeiym” then like the sound of tearing sheaf of papers, the first one stormed out and dropped. You gasped and wiped sweat off your brows, then the others followed the first, storming out as though the door had finally been opened for ‘children’ to go out and play with each other in the water outside. Objects began to take shape again in your eyes, then you realized that the hem of your shirt had been in your mouth, in-between your gnashing teeth. You looked up to the ceiling and muffled “thank God”.
Because things in the toilet were becoming clearer, you could now see your shadow elongated and multiplied into four onto the tiled floor, as happened when it was midday or there about. Now that your anus was starting to feel menthol fresh like the mouth after savoring peppermint, you took interest in the shadows and noticed that one of the human shadows which you supposed were yours, was topped with a vague female hairdo. Startled, you counted the shadows: one, two, three , four. You waved your hand, tilted your head to the left, then to the right, only one of the four shadows mimicked you. It was either the others were resistant or they were not yours, the devil must be cracking jokes.
Your mind raced, your heart panicked as you swiftly turned to your back where a window was opened, only to find that three people had been watching you. Among them was Kemi your fiancee who lived in the next compound.
Tears formed in your eyes as you watched the three of them hastily turning away in a let-me-mind-my business demeanor. You wanted to chase after them but your body wouldn’t allow you. When you thought you had spoken the word “idiots”, your lips had only been trembling in shock. Power left you especially as your posture dawned on you afresh: your shirt pulled upward and held in a tight knot in your left hand, how your strong-looking auburn feces were cutting corners inside the water closet, your trouser and boxer shorts gathered below your ankles, how the sun rayed across your buttocks and crotch region, giving the spiky hair a golden color. You wished you could switch off the sunlight or just banish it from human sight.
Now you were certain that God had punished you himself. The word “finished” in the very disparaging Nigerian sense seeped through your psyche and flattened your spirit. When you managed to wipe your buttocks (after you slid the windows shut) you cursed yourself, you could smear the stained toilet paper around your neck if it would serve as a kind of spiritual ritual to make those three idiots forget what they had seen.
In your room you had barely sat on your bed when you changed your whatssap status to “We are defeated”. “We” because in times like this you felt defeated in plural, the whole of your being: Body, Soul; and Spirit. You restlessly dialed Kemi’s number saved as “Baby”, it was unreachable.
Then you sent a text that said “Baby why have you done this to me?” your hands were shaking.
Her response came almost immediately as though she had waited for a text in preference to useless calls “Baby we heard you screams around the housing, so we now come and check boya shey something have happened ni”. Kemi’s English always came to you like an accident, it startled you like lightening. It didn’t surprise you when she said Funke Akindele was her role model. She had been denied a visa to Zimbabwe because she had spoken such a courageous – but- mindless English at the embassy in Ikeja.
Once when you went out with her on a date, before you proposed to her, she had turned her attention to a woman three tables away in the restaurant and shouted evenly “wo, stop cross-table-fellowshipping”. She had caught the lady stealing a glance at you both. You thought Kemi was jealous and protective of her city boy – this girl who was a proud alumni of an Ogbomoso village upbringing.
“We are finished! How could you have been watching me shit, with two other small boys? Kemi where did I go wrong? ” you texted again, your heart was pounding.
“At least give God glory. Many are praying for the gift of shitting to come out, it did not come. Bread can block the way. I was so much happy when your own come out. I said that ‘ah, ope o'”.
You looked up at the mirror on the wall to find your mouth slack, panick sliced into you. So she had been watching you from the start when you made those shrill moans upon sitting on the water closet seat, even when you tilted your long neck and waved a hand to test which shadow was yours. Now you imagined you had looked like an exotic animal from the viewers perspective – dinosaur maybe. The lazy silence in the room rang in your head.
Your phone beeped “But Chinedu everybody shits” her text appeared again, you dropped the phone against the desk, hands on your head
“All those peoples they are well wishers ni. You shit, you successful” another sms appeared. On good days you would have imagined her putting those texts into words with her singsong Yoruba ascent and a wan laughter in her eyes, her jaw shaped like letter U when she spoke. But your imagination was blurry black-and-white except for the toilet scene which was to your greater sadness, extremely clear.
“Nooooooooou!” you screamed with tears in your voice, to nobody in particular, but those three faces still felt very close to you. Had they taken photos? Shall they post them on facebook? You logged unto your Facebook on your phone and blocked two people: Chike and Ekene, lest they tagged you with something stupid. You didn’t block Kemi. Kemi is a fool! Village girl!
You grabbed your phone to dial Uchenna’s number
“Uche you have finished me! Uchenna!” you pronounced his name emphatically like your safety depended on it.
“What’s the problem?” his voice sounded rather smirky and happy, it irritated you, so you charged at him
“The bread you gave me, with pepperish beans. Uche you might find my ass on newspapers very soon maka Chukwu”
“What!” this time he giggled, perhaps he thought your sentence was metaphorical because you were known as the ‘father of metaphors, the kind of man who would say “in a nutshell” Instead of “in summary”. You hung up, threw the phone to the bed “mtcheeeew, fuck fuck fuck the world” you said as you punched the bed. Now, even though Kemi had been a village alumni, you felt with her, a kinship so close to foolishness”.
You threw yourself on the bed and buried your face in a pillow and muffled shouts into the foam, biting into the sheets.
“Bang! bang!! bang!!!” a loud knock on your door, it was Mr. Festus the Tiv caretaker, you could tell from his I-wanna-fight voice “Shame! You didn’t flush the toilet Mister Madubuike” you wished you could blend into the billows of smoke you could see through the window, rising from a burning dustbin outside, and just become a puff of black or white smoke, varnishing peacefully into the skies.

The next day on your way to the office, the children in the neighborhood who beat tins and cans with mock drum sticks didn’t need mention your name in the song “shitti shitti uncle” before you knew that they referred to you. If only they could perish at the frown of your face!
They jumped around like mice dashing past spacious rooms, they were all interchangeable in your eyes
“His shit is like dog shit” one of them finally said, a blob of laughter trailed off, and that was the punchline.
You suddenly found yourself chasing after Chike, you grabbed him by the hem of his shirt and gave him three intermittent slaps with the back of your hand so that it sounded like the fluttering of small flags. The frenzied shouts of the other children swept through the neighborhood, then you saw their varied-sized mothers coming out of their various flats, one by one, door by door. The women were not smiling. You froze.

To be continued next Saturday

Anthony Dim works as content supervisor for Afreecan Read literary community, Kwa-Zulu natal, South Africa. He writes fiction and non-fiction. He lives in Marianhill.