The English Alphabet

Photograph: Rebecca Winstanley

When you were set to leave for England in the year 1940, you took it upon yourself to teach me English. We got from A for Apple to M for Mango, but you retraced your steps and said G for Goodbye before we could finish the rest of the alphabet. So here I am, picking up where we left off.

The letter N stands for Nostalgia.

I took so many trips down memory lane until it was clear I was unfaithful to Nostalgia and was courting her sister Reminiscence instead. Let me remind you that you are as entangled in this sorry love triangle as I am.

How you commanded time to do your will across all this distance is a mystery, for the clock in the hallway had taken after you. It ran so fast that its footsteps pounded in my head. Unfortunately, it was unable to keep up with your frenetic pace, and time exploded, lodging its shrapnel all over the house. The walls have been ticking ever since.

The letter O stands for Obey.

I had watched until your ship sailed out of sight, splitting the sea in two: a piece for me, a piece for you. Land has flowed between us ever since.

The letter P stands for Partition.

Over the years, you sent me letters, but they were always damp, as though you wrote with English rain. Perhaps you refrained from using umbrellas because you once told me that when they open, they curve outward, mimicking the arch of my smile. Do you remember my smile?

The letter Q stands for Question.

You spoke about the cloths you combed your fingers through — fine linen from Egypt, kente from Ghana, silk from China. I touched myself, bemoaning the fact that parched plains of skin and rivulets of blood wouldn’t weave themselves into the luxurious fabric that had the privilege of passing into your hands.

The letter R stands for Regret.

The year was 1950 when you returned for good. That night we had lain, with an Indian summer blazing English snow. As you clambered on top, you gasped “You are me, I am you!” But when you entered me, why did it feel like a second invasion? “You are them,” I whispered, to no one in particular.

The letter S stands for Stranger.

They say that some lovers are doomed to be star-crossed, but what of the lovers who are fated to be land-locked? You and I have pounded away at so many rocks, now all that’s left between us is sand.

The letter T stands for Tragic.

In the first instance, you retraced your steps. This time, I go back to remind you: The letter G stands for Goodbye.

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