origami smiles.

treasure.
5 min readJun 13, 2022
photo: lakin ogunbawo

the first time they meet, halima hopes their relationship will be forgettable.

(here’s a spoiler: she is wrong.)

“nice to meet you!” moremi musters, with all her charming first-year enthusiasm. halima turns towards the door and takes in her appearance. she is . . . cute — a small bisque doll-esque girl with starry eyes, dark skin and a sweet voice whose fragile composition makes halima think first, of glass bowls ― compact & lovely, but deadly when shattered.

vaguely, halima wonders how deep moremi’s shards would bury inside her foot when she breaks. it’s inevitable. the university always had a way of squeezing the life out of its students like handkerchieves wrung dry. you could tell because the scorch marks were everywhere. in the dry air, the unforgiving sun, and bisi, her friend of three years, who once had eyes that shone bright, just like moremi’s.

but that was back then, before the university and its ability to swallow bright things whole found her. with each semester’s broadsheet posted at the faculty’s entrance, and each heartbreak from boys that wore bucket hats and swore by J-Cole, bisi transformed until she had learned how to wear sarcasm like dark lipstick and spent long weekends on the island, doing what university girls were taunted for on twitter spaces.

halima looks at moremi and decides she would rather not find out.

“give it time,” she replies unkindly. and because she loves being memorable, she turns and faces the wall, falling asleep a few minutes after; while the girl is left lost for words, an ominous feeling brewing in the pit of her stomach.

x.

the tension is bound to become commonplace. under no circumstances is it compulsory for roommates to get along with each other, and halima is just fine with her paints and books. she only uses the room to sleep anyways.

but like a parasite, moremi manages to worm her way into the walls of her life, pulling out smiles from her cheeks like leaves from a notebook. “take me,” her smiles say. “use me.”

for the longest time, halima scrunches them up and throws them away, as one would with rough drafts. she acknowledges the suggestion behind moremi’s kindness, the overarching idea (who said roommates couldn’t be cordial with each other?) but discards everything else. and yet she cannot help but find it admirable how much effort moremi puts into being liked. on some days she’d come back to chocolate cupcakes on her bed, and a moremi who bought them because she was not “paying attention” and “bought two extra.” and on other occasions, the girl would ask to run errands on her behalf because “i’ll be passing that side” only to be met with polite refusals.

“oya now,” she would reply, smiling with a shrug.

this goes on for a while until halima’s heart-bin is full and she is left with bundles of paper-smiles scattered all over her lap, unsure of what to do with them.

eventually, she returns them.

like paper kites, her smiles are small-winged & tentative. often times misguided. sometimes they land just after moremi has turned away. on other occasions, moremi manages to catch them mid-flight. (“did you just laugh at my joke?” she would ask. and suddenly the ceiling would become the most interesting thing in the room.)

x

the first time it happens halima wakes up in the middle of the night to find moremi twisting in pain, her pillow soaked with tears & sweat. the sight assaults her vision with its brutality and she’s compelled to stare at the cold, miserable form on the bed until it awakens from a nightmare, gasping for breath and shaking like a leaf.

groggily, halima beckons her over and they fall asleep on her bed together.

they don’t talk about it the following day.

the second time, moremi is the one that invites herself over. she crawls into halima’s bed, snakes an arm around her waist & wriggles until comfortably warm. halima freezes at the permanence of it all; the sensation that many grounds have been crossed in just a sliver of time. she turns around a few moments later to watch a layer of calm nestle on the girl’s face, disrupted only by a crease on her forehead. without thinking, halima runs a palm over her hair & pulls her closer.

it becomes a lifestyle.

x.

“so what are hausa snacks like?” moremi asks her one afternoon when the silence is no longer an awkward entity breathing in their room and the smiles have grown into collections of origami; diverse in colours and shapes and sizes.

halima looks up from the stretch of canvas she’d been working on, the shadows of her face alight with hues of colour. she sniffs in mild irritation, runs her stained fingers over her braids, then fixes a withering look on the girl. “one second, i’m trying to concentrate.” is her absent-minded reply as she refocuses on her work.

moremi does not waste a beat before she starts whining about feeling neglected and being prettier than whatever halima is painting anyways. with marked precision, halima throws a book that lands square on her face and that ends the discussion for the day.

but then moremi remembers the incident the following january after the holiday break when halima brings her a bucketful of local candies & snacks. halima swallows a smile as moremi squeals with delight, her curious fingers barreling through the goodies.

“these ones are my favourite, “ halima tells her, pointing at a wrap of baobab candy that wastes no time in finding her mouth.

then as an afterthought, she adds, “i doubt they are as nice as those hersheys you like, but they’re okay, i guess?”

“they’re better!” moremi says, like she means it, causing halima to laugh.

x.

as she’d initially divined, moremi shatters several times during the year. halima makes a case study of it. she inspects how her sunny layers would deconstruct ―, the glue of pleasantries & witticisms that hold her together, peeling off until she scatters. she only watches at first; tries to avoid the wreckage by keeping a distance, doing the bare minimum to ensure moremi pulls through & leaving the crime scene when her friends arrive.

it works for a while, this careful understudy. until she finds herself toeing around the damage, picking up shards that cut into her fingers and burrow under her foot.

but it’s okay.

she doesn’t mind anymore.

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