You never lock your wardrobe door. One of the hinges is coming loose so there is now a method to closing the door -- lift gently, swing slowly from right to left, wait for the click, release -- but this is not why you won’t close it. You want to see what dangles from the yellow plastic hanger in the corner when you lie on the bed; which has hung limply there since September 16, five years ago. You never forget the date you hung it there; you remember it, mark it more religiously than your birthday or the day your now run-away husband almost died in his own vomit. The rumours don’t bother you -- that his many drinks were poisoned by the women from a certain Madam Kosoko’s brothel in Lagos to teach men who like to fuck and run a lesson. He was supposed to be on a business trip. You have not seen him since he left the hospital. Though you would never say it, you thought it was a brilliant thing those women did, because you did not know how much more you could take -- the sermons from your mother and his mother on how a good Christian woman never brings shame by leaving.
You look at it when you lie and think of the first one you remember actually buying. You shake your head when you recall how you still got the size wrong after all those lectures by the tall girl with massive breasts in your JSS3 class. The girl who had come from South Africa in JSS 2. The girl whose breasts were rumored to know the hands of every bad boy in school. It intrigued you as she told you the steps which you still so clearly remember in an accent you now know, from having many South African friends, was Xhosa:
“Breathe in and hold your breath as you run the tape measure round just underneath your boobs. For even numbers add four, for odd numbers, add five. Save that number. Call it 2. That’s your boob size. But for your cup size run the tape measure round the fullest part of your boobs…”
You can still smell the garlic from the pores of the doctor who cut your breasts to save your life on September 16. You remember your thoughts as you battled depression right after the operation: How you thought that at least no man will ever grapple you again to get a rise, like your husband, Yinka did mostly when he was drunk. Like Obiora the younger man you let touch you only to get back at Yinka. You stopped with Obiora after the first few times because you felt no freedom in doing it. Only attachment to another weighty thing. So you told him never to see you again.
This nightly ritual of staring at the last bra you wore before the operation is what soothes you at night. Mercy never stops telling you: shebi you know you can get an implant abi? You know you can, Bimbo got it in the UK where she had her own surgery. Some days you think about it, but your breast prosthesis has grown on you in a way that Bimbo cannot understand. She assures you that some days she even forgets she has an implant. And she has made you feel it twice to see that it is as real as it gets.
This year you passed the five-year mark since the mastectomy and your doctor has told you it is unlikely for the cancer to return. Bimbo and Mercy want to throw a small cancer survival party for you but you plead with them not to. Some days you feel like people might compare you to Bimbo who had the same procedure as you had but has bounced back, doing charity work and appearing on TV. You are tired. It used to bother you but these days you say to yourself, I am not Bimbo, as you curl up in bed, switch off your phones and watch back to back episodes of the reality show, Cheaters.
You call it the last man standing; you have stared at it so long, it appears in your dreams -- elastic straps, half satin, half lace cups, hard plastic about the edges, three hooks, milk colour. Bimbo does not know you call it that, or she would have given you a long feminist lecture about the philosophy of language and maleness of language and encoding of male worldview. You agree, but you do not have the energy to think up a more appropriate term.
The therapist your doctor referred you to, before and after the mastectomy, told you to take it one day at a time. She still calls you to just check up on you but you know it is Bimbo who makes her do it. Yesterday when she called you wanted to tell her, I don't really feel depressed, just lethargic, but you said everything was alright. You still turn down Bimbo's subtle invitations to do cancer awareness walks and talks. But you love her because although she is different she seems to understand.
Mercy is dragging you to the cinema this weekend to watch Idris Elba's new movie, No Good Deed. You will go, if only to watch her gush like a teenage girl over Elba. She has even told her husband in jest, if Idris Elba ever says hello to me this marriage is over. Her husband has learnt to share her with the actor.
You are mentally preparing what dress to wear. You close your eyes and travel five years back. You are wearing an off-white dress, black stilettos. And the bra. As you smile, you feel tears roll out of the side of your eyes.
*written to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month