Hi. My name is Ayo. And if you ever saw me — well, that’s the thing, you’ve never seen me, and you never will. One part is because of the story I’m about to tell you, another part is because — and this is where things get tricky — I’m invisible.
I don’t mean it metaphorically, like Oh, I’m not seen. No, I mean it matter-of-factly, I am invisible. Or at least, I was. We’ve met before, you and I. But, of course you don’t remember, nobody ever does.
And I guess nobody ever will.
I don’t blame you, though.
When my mother gave birth to me, even the doctors didn’t know where I was. I grew up in the shadow of two elder brothers who didn’t know, or care about whether or not I existed. All the clothes I put on, and all the shoes I wore just blended into myself, that is, they became not seen. I grew older, I guess, but even I couldn’t see myself, but I felt myself, I felt how empty I was on the inside. I felt the hole, I felt how wide it was. And I knew that nothing could ever fill it. No matter how much or how hard I tried.
I think secondary school is a horrible social experiment that should be outlawed. The boring hours filled with boring classes taken by boring teachers. It should be illegal, I’ve been saying it since Jss1, but nobody heard me.
Then one day, I was heading to the cafeteria, and this girl — her name is Vicky — she looked at me, right at me, and then she waved.
See, this happens a lot, people look through me and wave at the person behind me. But there was a way she looked at me, like she was staring into my eyes. Hundreds of people through the thousands of hours of my life had looked through me, but this was the first time someone looked at me, and I felt seen.
For the first time, I felt real.
Vicky wasn’t the smartest girl in class, and she wasn’t the prettiest either, but she was the most present. It was like everyone else faded into the background, but she…she was there, she was alive. That was it, she was the most alive girl there was and I was sure I was in love with her. With all my heart and body, I fell in love with Vicky the first time I saw her, not because she saw me, but because she made me feel seen.
We started talking then, and I learnt a lot about her. She liked horses, and painting. She loved painting. She liked Jollof rice, hated fried rice and cursed the day Ofada was created. She was funny, and witty, and she had a dimple in her left cheek whenever she smiled. She was quirky, and strange and the best thing that had ever happened to me.
“What about you?” she asked me one day as we sat under a mango tree behind our school. We were skipping Civic Education, which, we both agreed, was a crime against humanity, and we were talking under the tree that was shedding leaves on our heads. Birds chirped happily in the air.
We were in SS2, the WAEC dread was looming above us, and university would start soon, some day. But that was all in the future, for now, I was sitting under a mango tree with the most beautiful girl I had ever known. All she had to do was tell me to jump, and I’d say, “How high?” But when she asked me “How about you?” I paused.
“Nobody has ever asked me that before,” I answered.
Her hand crossed to mine over the roots of the tree and her touch sent tingles through my whole body, and then my hand started to shake and I looked at it, and it looked strange. I had cut myself in Intro Tech last week and the cut was an ugly purple.
I looked at my hand, and I could see it.
I could see my hand.
I laughed as I looked down at myself, at my body, and I laughed again, because my body actually wasn’t so bad. A bit on the chubby side, yes, but I think that added to the glamour.
“What’s wrong?” Vicky said, looking at me with an odd look on her face. “Did I do something?”
“I can see myself.” I breathed. “I can actually see myself.”
Vicky laughed and held my hand, and I felt my pulse quicken. “I can always see you, silly,” she said, and she put my hand on her chest, and I felt the strong pump of her heart through my fingertips. I was also feeling something else at the time.
“I see your big face all the time,” she said, her voice low. “I see your birthmark, right under your nose. The funny way you smile. The way your eyebrows furrow when you’re angry, and the way they dip when you’re upset. How do you not see that?”
My hand was still on her chest, her heartbeat thumping through my fingers, my heartbeat thumping through my trousers. “I don’t…I don’t know.” I told her.
And she looked at my lips. Then my eyes, then she ran her fingers across my cheek. She smiled, then she leaned in. And I leaned in.
Then, the leaves stopped falling. The birds stopped singing, and Vicky stopped leaning as the whole world stopped.
“Guardian,” A voice said and my head whipped to the left to see a man clad in black, red, and silver, his faced masked in chrome metal. “Your oath has reached it’s renewal date. How do you proceed?”
I looked at Vicky’s frozen puckered face, at the leaves suspended in the air, and I looked back at the man. “What…what’s going on?”
“Guardian,” the burly man said again, “how do you proceed?”
“I don’t understand,” I told him, standing.
The man cocked his head. “Eighteen years ago,” the man said. “We asked you a question before you were incepted on this planet. We are the Arthrax, the world burners. For our world is the only worthy one in the cosmos, and should be the only remaining at the end of time. And so we perform the acts of our creator, Shadrax The Eternal Flame.”
“You said…” I said, my head feeling light, I could feel memories nudging at my mind. “You said you asked me a question.”
The man pulled out a sword from the air, made of pure flames, the light reflected off my chin. “We picked you at random, before your essence became the embryo you would grow up in. It was a test to determine the worthiness of your planet.”
“The question,” I prodded. Sweat was dripping from my brow. “What was the question?”
“We asked,” he said, “if you would sacrifice your privilege of being seen, and heard, and felt, for eighteen years, so your planet may live.”
The memories began to flood my mind. The Arthrax wipe memories, it’s how they invade worlds unseen. I remembered then.
“And I said yes,” I answered, tears falling down my eyes.
“And now,” he said, “you are have reached your eighteenth year, our original agreement has expired. How do you choose to proceed?”
I knew the terms. The first was a test, but the second encounter was a payment. My existence, for the Earth’s. They would wipe every memory of me from anyone that had ever met me, even bumped into me.
I looked at Vicky, my fists clenched, my eyes watering, and I fell to my knees. I couldn’t feel the hole in my chest anymore. All I could feel was my heart beating.
I looked up at him. “Would it be painless?”
He looked at me, and didn’t speak for a moment. “Yes,” he said finally.
I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding.
“Do it,” I told him, uttering the words I spoke to him all those years ago before I was even born. Words that had never been spoken to the Arthrax. “I consent and gladly give.
We’ve met before, you and I. Or rather, I met you. You looked worried that day, and I hope you’re good now. Well, this is my story, and I hope you have a happier one, and even if you don’t, I hope you lived the hell out of it.
I’m searching for what to tell you now, but I hate goodbyes.
So, hi. My name is Ayo. And if you ever saw me — well, that’s the thing, you’ve never seen me, and you never will. One part is because of the story I just told you, another part is because, well, I’ve been gone for a very long time.
And if your memories do come back — and miracles do happen — spare me a thought now and then, will you?
And help me tell Vicky she was right.
Ofada rice sucks.
Thank you for reading! This series is born out of me asking my followers on all my social media questions, and writing short stories out of it. You can join in too! Follow me on any platform @AnthonyAzekwoh