How to Paint a Boy

April 27, 2018 Fiction , POETRY / FICTION

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Chukwuemeka Akachi




How to Paint a Boy


(after Gbenga Adesina’s “How to Paint a Girl”)


With him you come to learn
that when a man is called to paint a girl
he paints all of himself.

Gbenga Adesina




When you want to paint boys like me, you are going to need a lot of patience. I’m full of broken windows and dusty furniture. The first day I looked myself in the mirror, I saw visions of boys lost in abandoned buildings and smiled. Me? I’m just a sad song playing on replay; I have forgotten what my lyrics mean.


The first time I tried to paint was in nursery school. I painted a blue sky with a black god in it; my teacher stared at me for minutes and said nothing. Now, I paint only the things I see… things everyone else can see.


Boys like me envy trees, how silently their hearts beat, how they stand at a place and absorb stories: the boys who kissed at midnight, lovers who passed holding hands and returned wearing hate. Boys like me can’t stay that still. Our tongues are damp with tales of everything we chose not to tell the universe. Maybe we are branches of things we may never come to recognise. We envy trees: their courage to interrupt light and interpret it as shadows. We don’t have that kind of guts. So, when you paint boys like me, you will have to paint a lot of trees…


… and injuries. We have bruises the shape of roaming clouds sitting inside our skins, but the doctor couldn’t call it an ulcer. They grow into gorgeous scars, till our lovers beg to borrow them. We usually say no. This is cartography. We are wide roads leading to dead ends. We teach ourselves, that the darkness flowing through our veins will one day make our deaths beautiful. You can’t paint us without painting trees and injuries…


… and glass. The vital parts of us are made of glass. The day she slammed my door, my lungs shattered. My eyes cracked. There were clatters of smashed glasses everywhere inside my brain. No one has made me breathe ever since, not without an oxygen mask. My eyes have not found another meaning for “beautiful.” My fingers have forgotten how to hold. Trees and injuries and glasses…


… and roads. We stroll. We wander into every street named “happiness,” hoping to cover the footprints we left the day love chased us into dark rooms with cold floors. We always come back bleeding, but we repeat it the next morning. This is a sacrament. “Back” is a disease we carry from the first day we started stealing from the wind. We keep on going “Back.” So, when you see us staring at dead leaves littered on green grasses, know that we are wondering at how dead things can be held up so delicately. This is magic. Trees and injuries and glasses and roads…


… and sadness. Sadness is shadow breathing under human skin but you will have to give it flesh… if you are a real artist. We have learnt to wear our sadness perfectly. It’s a second skin. Boys like me roam the streets of Facebook, waiting for a person who has a “hi dear” to spare. We live like this, in these silent streets, with the peeling paints of our Facebook walls, the rusty doors of our inboxes….  We are handkerchiefs drenched in loneliness. See, we just survive. When we finally write stories about ourselves, we die at the first page, though the book runs into a thousand pages. Trees and injuries and glass and roads and sadness…


… and ellipsis. We never complete our sentences. Our words cause eclipses, so we trap them in our throats. Our bodies are full of dusty cupboards; we never have time to clean up. Trees and injuries and glass and roads and sadness and ellipsis…


… and dreams. We don’t talk. Our tongues are secrets we try to keep from ourselves. This means we paint our words into bodies, bones, laughter, and laughter and laughter. When people ask me why I smile in my sleep, I say, “You don’t understand. Dreaming is my response to every dagger life has planted on my chest”


Trees and injuries and glass and roads and sadness and ellipsis and dreams and dreams and dreams: these are our parts. Draw them, with a sinking ship on the background, and then paint with caution. The sum of my parts might not make any sense on your canvass, but paint it anyway. Call it Art.






Chukwuemeka Akachi

Chukwuemeka Akachi is a writer who lives and writes in Nsukka, a beautiful town in Nigeria. His poems have appeared in several online magazines like African Writer, Kalahari Review, Naija Online and print magazines like The Muse Journal. He currently edits poetry for The Muse, a journal of critical and creative writing. He is a winner of the James Nnaji Prize for poetry and has been longlisted for the Okike prize for poetry. He writes to keep his sanity.

Editor review


  1. Kelechi Kelechi January 10, at 16:25

    Where can one read the rest of his poems? Or anything else he wrote. Asking for a friend.

  2. Captain tee August 31, at 14:52

    Wao. This! Why did you sing the last song in your throat

  3. Gaynor June 14, at 09:23

    Rest In Peace young man. Your words are powerful and poignant.

  4. Ayeesha May 26, at 22:48

    Ooh I wonder why I haven't seen this way before... it's so lovely it brings teara to my eyes


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