Today I am very excited to bring an excerpt from Speak Gigantular by Irenosen Okojie which is being released tomorrow (15th September 2016). I hope you enjoy!
Walk With Sleep
On the morning of her audition October counted thirty women in the cold, narrow audition hallway, imagining wax figures of everybody melting on a conveyor belt that stopped each time a figure flattened. She sat wringing her hands nervously, every now and again looking at the white audition room door at the far end of the hallway. It swung open each time an actress walked out, creaking loudly in satisfaction. At the opposite end, the water machine chugged, dampening the sounds of heels clicking in the various rooms. Large head shots of famous, successful actors and actresses lined the walls. October watched each one take a bite from the same piece of cake that never finished before passing it on. Then sated, the actors’ bodies leaned forward threatening to leave their frames to wander the long hallway mockingly.
She’d gone to twenty five different auditions in the last month and hadn’t gotten one central role. Not one. Only features as an extra in Eastenders, Holby City and Coronation Street. She was planning to try her luck with theatre more to see how that panned out. She’d visited The Tricycle Theatre a few times, starring at their posters, drinking at the bar and waiting for the actors to emerge from their heady nights of performance.
She took a deep breath, now the conveyor belt surrounded her, the wax figures had disappeared but the actresses in various states of undress held items October recognized; a pair of torn period stained tights, a pale parasite that had begun to grow tiny legs on her bedroom window sill at nights, her mother’s gold ring she’d had to sell to help pay rent months back. She blinked the image away and the women were all back in their seats again, restless, adjusting their costumes, checking their reflections for silences in small make up mirrors. She took another deep breath, aware of every leg uncrossing, every panicked whisper, every body leaning towards an invisible, darkening line. She ran her lines over in her head. She knew them but it helped to keep her calm doing so. When the heavy set woman with the severe bun called her name, waving a clipboard, October stood up steadily, sensing the eyes of the other actresses on her but not the faintest of smirks on some of their faces.
The audition room was a plain, underwhelming experience; white walls, a wooden floor, an open skylight. The producer and director of the drama, both men and a surly looking chestnut haired, grey eyed woman sat behind a table. They got brief pleasantries out of the way before indicating she should start. October gave her interpretation of the scene she’d been sent; a pirate battling on the seas, his tormented love, a reckoning on an unnamed Caribbean island. Her audition lasted ten minutes; she searched their faces expectantly after her last line. They thanked her for coming, smiling politely, expressions unreadable. Then the director stood, ushered her to one side.
His lanky frame momentarily blocked her view of the others. “You were very good.” He offered flatly. “Erm… This is awkward. The part, it wasn’t written for a black woman.”
October pulled her arm back, the small embers of anger flickering. “It didn’t say that in the casting call. Some of it is set on a Caribbean island, I don’t understand. Why can’t I play a pirate’s wife? You’re the director. Doesn’t your decision stand?” Her voice rose then. Behind the table, the producer and the woman looked everywhere but at her, shifting awkwardly.
“I’m sorry, my hands are tied. I’m only telling you because I feel it’s cruel not to. You really are very good and very attractive. Good luck.” He said, face flushed, already turning his back.
Later, she passed through Deptford market feeling angry and frustrated. From the Sense charity shop doorway, she spotted the Betty Boop t-shirt on the rack. The last one, rumpled a little from all the hands that had decided to pass on it. Stepping into the shop, she felt herself already reaching for it and the bitter wind whipping her items from the audition conveyor belt all around her.
Haji jumped after the thing inside him wouldn’t stop growing. For years he’d fed it; samosas, curries, koshary, gin. At sixteen he’d stepped back from the mirror when his mouth looked unrecognizable, cruel, super imposed. School meant trying to sit still in lessons pretending he didn’t feel disconnected from his limbs. He took to carrying a wind up man in his pocket which he’d place on the playground floor during breaks, starring at in deep concentration, trying to find the centre of its movement as though it would reveal something. Girls would giggle at the edges, finger their pleated grey skirts saying “Are you okay Haji? You’re acting funny”
“Go away.” He’d retort, barely glancing their way. Listening for more important things, a second heartbeat he was sure was winging its way to his lean, rangy frame.
“Why don’t you disappear? You’re a weirdo.” The girls would snap, narrowing their eyes, reducing him to a tiny flint as they stomped off before breaking into fits of laughter again, coddled by the headiness of youth.
On Wednesday the 26th February his life came crashing down, a broken mauve eggshell on the black and white kitchen floor. The photo of the boy he once was with a laughing woman rested on the counter top. The wooden frame still greasy from an incident where he couldn’t feel his arm; he’d been shelling prawns when that horrible, murky feeling came, grabbing at the photograph as though it was a lifeline. It irked him that he had no memory of the photo, only that they were happy. He picked up his egg shell with trembling fingers. dumped the fragments in the detachable head of the blue bin a purgatory for all the wind up men that had accompanied him over the years. He brushed his teeth, downed a glass of orange juice. His gums bled from years of trying to cut through doorways blocked by barbed wire with his mouth. He didn’t close the fridge door, shut the windows or check the plugs were turned off but the cobwebs in the ceiling corners had a magic about them, tiny trampolines for the small fleet footed to crash through. The chipped purple door of flat 49b slammed shut.
Outside, the air was cold on his skin. The sky snatched facial expressions, swirling them grey. Haji observed the scenes around him, a man paying a bike messenger outside a tall, soulless office block, laughter between two charity fundraisers shaking their orange buckets at the traffic lights, a shop shutter door opening; it’s slow, mechanical sound reverberating in his ears.
At Bank station the platform was hot. People avoided each other’s gazes. Their voices were locusts scratching his throat. The time was 11am. The clock had hands on its face. This made him laugh. Made him wonder what it would be like to have fingers and limbs sprouting out of faces. The station was one cavernous passage, churning out passengers bearing faded bruises from 5am till 1am daily. The feeling of sadness continued, holding his body hostage. For ages he’d felt nothing, was numb. He simply functioned. He thought about the tube train. How it ran through tunnels, heartbeats, chests. Through guts that grew comets and tongue’s twinned the flame. The tube transported worlds intersecting. Oily spillage slipped through its programmed doors. The tube brought deliverance. The rumbling train approaching presented an exit. The sound of shutter doors trapped in his ears and the train wheels screeching seemed to be in collusion. To Haji the driver was an angel in disguise who could change at any moment in his neat, private carriage. Haji’s right arm went dead first. He leapt in front of the train just as his left arm was about to, making the woman standing behind him in the cream Mac jacket gasp for breath. Everything and everyone shrunk, reduced to deflated things orbiting in the distance, the past. He landed inside the void, the thud of his fall splitting the driver’s head, leaving miscellaneous anxieties there to torment him for months.