Wura Blackson designs dresses specific to the pains of each client. “The sharper the pain, the more dramatic the fabric; the deeper the cuts, the louder the sleeves; the weightier the story, the more precise the tail.” Fashion as healing, beauty as distraction from sin. The Lagos élite queue “the length of two anacondas” for her creations. She has the adoration of the ruling classes, the loyalty of her clients (of all genders). Yet she will never, ever, repeat a design. This is a brand so tantalising the reader wants to elbow in the door, to visit this tired and dying Oracle before it’s too late.
And yet the image that floored me in this story is the little detail of where the clients go when Wura refuses their custom: she has Security escort them to “the crying room”. A place where those refused can lie on imported Italian sofas in the smoky dark, with noise-cancelling headphones so as not to hear each other weep. With this “crying room” Osunde makes space – on the page, and in the imagination – to map a site of exclusion from the fictional world she’s just created.
By building this room she strengthens the overall story, and grants a deeper kind of power to her protagonist (who, we find, remakes her world in many ways). There’s so much more to this story – Wura’s daughter, her impending death, doubt and duty… but those people weeping in the dark are always there. Osunde is a glorious storyteller, with so many pieces like this which witness rooms and realities and bodies and obsessions which so many refuse to see.
First published in Catapult, February 2021, and available to read here, and collected in Vagabonds!, Fourth Estate, 2022