At the Speed of Life

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By Alexis Teyie

It might have been a day like any of those that preceded it, except I decided not to wear a bra. This was not a radical choice – just a small change. Yet I have come to believe it completely altered the tenor of that week, and with this, the history of my entire planet. What might have led to that seemingly trivial wardrobe choice? Perhaps it was the heat. And, if anyone had asked, I would have told them I only cared to carry breasts on Sunday afternoons. All my nice bras were unwashed. I wore a sweater to work on Tuesdays. The breasts themselves are rather negligible. There are certainly multiple maybes, perhaps, and if-this-then-thats we might attach to the version of me that did not wear a bra and altered history.

The only maybe of significance is this one: I woke up before the sun rose on Tuesday and the dark was a shimmering one, a dark that can only confer grandeur. And it was behind the lashes of this voluptuous dark that my daffodil revealed itself to me as the most expansive thing on the planet – so generous was it with its magnificence that I mounted my window sill and nearly fell out the open window inhaling its splendour. The daffodil in question was so flattered that it preened in response, which charmed me even more so I leaned in closer, and it plumed prettily, and I was even further bewitched, and Daffodil responded, as did I and on and on we continued, my flower and I.

Our delicate ballet was eventually interrupted by the national call to attention. Shaken out of my reverie, I ran out of my room and stood outside the door, waiting for the daily duties to be called out by the spokesperson of our section. My allotment for that Tuesday was delivering rations to each room for the single meal we ate each week. I couldn’t be bothered to list the benefits of a streamlined diet that day as I did my task; everything reached me through the veil of daffodil’s clean wonder. The very universe itself opened up before me, and its secrets lingered on my tongue long after the initial shock of understanding.

It became clear to me that womanhood is not a vocation to which I am called. Initially, I was not particularly sure how to put this insight to use. Of course, I would have to report to the Ministry of Genitals, stop by the local chapter of the National Wardrobe Committee, and change my gender details at the Statistics & Surveillance Bureau. This was all fairly straightforward, but really, I hadn’t inhaled enough of Daffodil to decide which gender captured all the versions of myself that I bore within me. And what does one do, when one finds oneself in the wrong body? I imagined one should take a lover maybe and, if necessary, take up arms because that’s what people did in the history files. Beyond that, I wasn’t certain.

I decided to seek counsel at the National Confusion Centre.

“Welcome to the National Confusion Centre. Sponsored by the Allied Lands of Africa – we think so you don’t have to.”

“I’m confused-”

“Yes.”

“Well-”

“I see.”

“I’m not a woman.”

“Which of the genders are you?”

“That’s the confusion.”

“You have none?”

“Oh, I don’t know.”

“We have a chart.”

“But you can’t-”

“And a scientific test.”

“There’s no such -”

“We can also fix you into one, if you’re determined.”

“That won’t be necessary.”

“Well, for registration and tax purposes, you must have one.”

“Daffodil wouldn’t agree.”

“Isn’t your number 59013? What is Daffodil?”

“Nothing. Can I just leave?”

2 16“Actually, I need to update the records. So, please pick one.”

“Won’t it take a few years to change?”

“No, we’re efficient. Allied Lands of Africa – we move at the speed of light!”

I tried to tell the automated counsellor about my encounter with Daffodil, about the secrets of the universe which were revealed to me. That, no, I didn’t need to move at the speed of light, just to bloom, gently and quietly like Daffodil. At the speed of life, if possible. It was this dangerous turn in my overall temper that marked the beginning of it all.

“59013? 59013! Are you malfunctioning?”

“Yes, yes. I mean, no, no.”

“Good. The Patrollers are overworked this time of day.”

“I think I’ll leave now.”

“That will not be possible. I suggest you take on animorphous.”

“No.”

“It’s a crowd favourite. Really.”

“Like I said, no.”

“Oh. Well-”

“Thank you, then.”

“Actually, 59013! Where are you going? No. Do stop. Please? 59013!”

They would send the Patrollers after me, of course, but I wouldn’t look back. And so I ran, genderless, my nipples nearly boring through my sweater with all the tension. It might have been the sight of my nipples, those impertinent little things, or the desperation with which I called for Daffodil that drove a crowd to form behind me, repeating, like a chant in monotone: Daffodil. Daffodil. Daffodil.

Alexis Teyie is a Kenyan poet and feminist. She also writes speculative fiction. Her work is included in the Jalada Afrofuture(s) and Language issues. She has also featured in Q-zine, This is Africa, African Youth Journals, and Black Girl Seeks. Upcoming fiction is in two anthologies Water and Imagine Africa 500.
Alexis Teyie is a Kenyan poet and feminist. She also writes speculative fiction. Her work is included in the Jalada Afrofuture(s) and Language issues. She has also featured in Q-zine, This is Africa, African Youth Journals, and Black Girl Seeks. Upcoming fiction is in two anthologies Water and Imagine Africa 500.
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