Coffee-Similoluwa Aluko

Know yourself. Know who you are, know what you are, know what you are not. Only those who know themselves love themselves; only those who love themselves, are themselves. The coffee bean knows itself; it basks in its brown richness, and dwells in the glory of its strength. Coffee never gives up its brownness for milk, or its smell for mint. It dives in; bravely, confidently, courageously, and transforms an entire glass of silky white into a royal brown. I am coffee.

I’ve always yearned for my tree; my haven. I long to reside in the might of my berry. I missed being with my father, raring the cows into the glittering sun. I missed drilling my feet into the golden sand, and pushing my face up against the soothing, warm wind. I missed the nights I spent with my grandfather, roasting beef under the deep blue moon, drooling as I pinched off the succulent, tender beef from the stick when he wasn’t looking.

I missed watching my older sisters; seeing their figures glimmer against the campfire. I missed the cream wrappers and the red-cream-green half-tops they wore. I missed seeing their beads dance along with them on their foreheads, necks, wrists and ankles. I missed the awe with which I adored their long, black hair sliding down their necks, and onto their faces, emphasizing the stunning white patterns drawn on them.

I missed the awe on my brothers’ faces as they saw the girls’ hands and legs, intricately designed in red and black ink. I’ll always miss the look on my eldest brother, Amir’s face, as he saw his bride dance. Her thick, jet-black hair was woven into huge braids that accentuated her dark eyes. Her Kajal shone in the moonlight. Her gorgeous, silky black skin glowed as she drew nearer the fire. Amir spotted her within a second. That was Amina; that was the girl he was whipped for, tried for, and finally, presented with. I missed it all too much.

Maiduguri was my home, and I yearned for it with every fibre of my being. How desperately I’d wanted to come home, yet, how terribly inconsolable I felt when I arrived.

I remembered everything. I remembered Monday Market that my mother used to rush us to, right before school.  I remembered how terrified I was, when I bought my first kilogram of fish. I remembered teasing the old fisherman my mom sent me to, because there were only flies, and no fish on his counter. He picked up a knife; must’ve been 10 or 11 centimeters long; and thrust it towards the wooden counter, on which I had placed my fragile hand. I remembered the loud bang, and the tears that poured out of my eyes afterward. I remembered being less frightened of losing my hand, than explaining to my mother how I had lost the land. I remembered slowly opening my eyes, and seeing my hand, intact, right next to a huge Tiger Fish. I remembered how he laughed, and told me that it was local magic. I must have been about six years old. I could still hear the bang; but of guns and bombs. How easily I would have given my hand that day, if it assured the peace of Maiduguri.

I remembered my 13th birthday. I’d never been to a museum before then. I remembered sighing as I walked into the building, and shocking my cousins by reading the signs. I remembered how truly fascinated I was by the sculptures, and how deeply in love I fell that afternoon. I remembered how upset my cousins were that my father had sent me to school, yet how extremely fulfilled my mother seemed. I found my purpose in art that day. My father felt undermined, because he wanted me to get married to his friend’s son. Nonetheless, he accepted my interests, as he was impressed by the way I read. I would have married the boy, if it meant the Museum would have flourished.

I ran by the University of Maiduguri, where I had studied. I barely saw a flash of it before I came to a halt. My heart stopped, my limbs trembled, and my heart broke. I could not control the tears from running down my cheeks. It hadn’t changed much; and that was my grief in its entirety. I had hoped for better things for it. I had always wanted it to grow into Africa’s Yale. I told myself it would have, and that day, I blamed myself for its sluggishness. I remembered being offered a teaching job there, and how I so ignorantly turned it down. I walked onto greener pastures.

My brothers had me back in Italy within the week. I tried to sink my feet into the sand on the beach, and push my face up, against the cool breeze. It felt so disgustingly foreign.

My angel, Halima, mimicked me. She helps her father rare the cattle after school, and she helps my brothers make the Suya and the Kilishi afterwards.

My brothers wrote to me today, saying she wants to visit me in Maiduguri. I told them to send her to school in Kano, where it was so much safer.

It was so ironically painful, how she had tasted so little of Maiduguri, yet loved and deserved it infinitely more than I had. She never gave up her brownness for milk, or her smell for mint. When she was born, she dived into my life; bravely, confidently, courageously, and transformed an entire glass of silky white into a royal brown. She has, and will always be, my coffee.


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