Five Mornings And A Shiver

​(This isnt a hit, nor will it earn shots at any festivals. Save your scathing reviews, I haven’t written in months) 

.You try so hard to leave your bed, but you can’t recall the last time you were this scared. You cling to your blanket, not necessarily to shield you from the preying winds, or to aid you in processing the loneliness, but because you just feel that the slightest contact your toe makes with the cold floor would trigger an alarm in your (typically) uncoordinated mental space, an alarm that signals the beginning of a new day, a day with the same old routine, a routine that clips another feather off your dreams, those dreams that have lost their ability to fly.

The structure of this slave plantation disguised as an office building disgust you. One short look around, and you find people whose lips are sore from making firm contact with every butt cheek up the organogram, people whose eyes betray resignation to a life devoid of any real aspirations, and zombies who briefly raise their heads up at the sound of that credit alert late in the month, before slipping back into their mentally comatose state, their chains in form of neck ties and scarves fitting all so tightly, the jackets making for a lovely slaving outfit….or prison uniform….. the appellation never mattered really. On these corridors, there is no process that calls for any real genius, as a matter of fact you are thankful for errors that allow for some remote creativity, errors that your co-slaves live in fear of, fear that gets them having nightmares of workplace drama (because you cant see such as dreams), because they cant afford to lose the only thing that gives their existence any form of meaning (they are not living, they lost the right to use that word long ago)……and you never felt so out of place, so different, so non-blending. You resisted every urge to conform, every inclination to come to terms, every move to break you to acceptance….. 

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Or did you? Did you resist, really……or you are simply unwilling to admit that you have caved in? Haven’t you lost your ability to imagine, to create, to even think? Isn’t it the case that you cannot even process your thoughts properly to have any sort of meaningful conversation, let alone the kind laced with that spicy wit you were once known for. Remember the other week when Chiagozie, the slender lady from the other department, passed by your desk, and your attempt at a conversation was so lame, you had to repeat yourself thrice before she understood  you, and you wondered why, but then you replayed the words you let out and found that you weren’t making sense to even yourself. You are like them now, heck, you are worse off. On more mornings than one you wake up feeling retarded, unsure of when to cross the highway, talk about mental short-sightedness. 

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Mama says you should ‘man up and quit being lazy’,  as if subjecting yourself to brain damage day after day is one of the features of adulthood. Daddy reminds you that truancy is for kids, citing the economy which is on an amazing freefall, and telling you about how Sennacherib doesnt have a job six years after graduation, or how Mordecai and 600 others got fired the other day……as if the wars in your head are of no consequence, as if you need to start thinking of the woes of others in a bid to make yourself feel better. He reminds you of the bills you have begun to pay, but you also want to ask him if it doesnt matter that sometimes you do not know what you just paid for, that there is a possibility of you not even having clues as to where you are at the time. 

You want to tell a doctor how you feel, but you remember that people still die from malaria in these parts, you think of Mayowa, and you imagine him suggesting bed rest…..at least you’d fare better with him than an older relative who would insist that you visit a pastor. “What is this nonsense about mental health these days?” you imagine this uncle yelling with his eyes and facial contortions,  “this is Africa, you probably offended that old woman who sits by the old grammar school on your last visit to the village. Go back, make amends, and re-dedicate your life to Christ.” Nothing close to what you need, but shrinks are few and expensive, and even when you crave for Xanax on many nights, you don’t know how to resort to pills to become less sad or less anxious. Yea, ‘less sad’,  because the idea of achieving happiness by swallowing a few substances doesnt make any sense to you. 

Barbara’s crush on you has faded; she has stopped calling. Whether it’s her being fed up of your perennial unresponsiveness, or the fact that her curiousity has worn off and she has moved on to the next creative genius, you are in no mood to figure out, at least not now…..but it’s better for her that she scrolls past when she sees your phone number or display name on her screen, because the person she would be conversing with at the other end isn’t you, but a shell with flesh and bone who looks and sounds like you, heck, even the voice reflects that disconnect between mind and body. You grab your phone and dial a few people whom you feel your insecurities are safe with, but then you wonder what you even want to say to them, so you clutch the red button, and when one decides to return your call, you nod along to the ringtone, your thoughts unable to gather themselves properly to have any kind of coherent phone conversation. 

It is hard watching yourself fade away slowly….yea, you dont want to use the ‘d’ word because it sounds too extreme, too resignatory, too much like a strong fling of the towel. In any case, suicide doesnt really trend anymore, and even if you wanted to end it all, you would want to do it in style; your suicide note should be able to cart away all kinds of posthumous awards at the following year’s literary festivals, then there is the unresolved debate of whether logging out from the planet by yourself is the ultimate selfishness to the ones who love you, so you choose to be indifferent to the idea of painkillers and slashed wrists. 

The economy hits everyone hard, so you cannot afford to print invitation cards, let alone host a befitting pity party, so you resort to the all-purpose “fine” when asked about your health by people whose sincerity of inquiry you cannot gauge, or resort to silence when it becomes too hard to fake. Why, why would you want to bore people with your tales? Didnt you know that it is unmanly to whine, and when you made the mistake of trying to find solace in Sharon and let her in on your days of uncertainty and your Sunday night jitters, didnt she blow you off and throw your honesty in your face, your ‘selfishness’ and ‘penchant for always talking about yourself’ becoming insufferable? 

You dont feel like you have the authority to tell people to live their dreams because you are caving in to the fear of failure, fear of being perceived as fragile, fear of hunger, fear of being regarded as unstable, you sold out, you embarrassed the non-conformists you once dared to identify with, the treachery is unforgivable…..and the beautiful thing about it all is, the place you traded your soul for will never accept you. It’s hard to tell whether your brain cells put up a defense mechanism by shutting themselves down, or you’re actually dumbing down and going through mental progeria, but you simply cannot fit in, you cannot keep up with being told what to do without asking questions while having to smile through it all, and frequently you are reminded that you are not good enough, that you are pretty much expendable, that you are not in any way valuable to the scheme of things. Not sane enough to blend in perfectly, but not crazy enough to stand out either, you are nowhere, and you are no one……and it’s best that your friends forget you, it’s only right that your admirers move on to wilder minds. It’s easier that way, really; unable to do what you love, unwilling to settle for what you don’t, the days witness your eyes lose their brightness, and you flirt with ulcers as your alimentary canal loses every sense of time. Dave Matthews was wrong with those lyrics in “Broken Things”: nothing about the road is crystal anymore, and you’re losing grip of your entire mental landscape. 

Certain antiquated bestsellers talk about a supernatural being who fixed everything in place with a little spoken word session, and you dial up this famous Being now and then, but His line is always on Call Waiting. You really can’t blame Him though; there are 6,999,999,999 other souls to look after…….so it doesn’t take long for you to go off the rail, plunging rapidly and finding a new home in the darkest pathways. No, this is not a tunnel, with hope of little rays somewhere further up. This is an ocean, and you are sinking deeper even beyond the Benthic, that region so dark and so cold even for sealife, your heart frozen, your soul numb……but not too numb for the droplets from the showers, which cause shivers that run beyond reaction to water. You will dress up for another day at the slave camp, you will knot that tie, and you will head out to serve up more torture to your mind….or what’s left of it. 

“Now and then

I pace my place

I cant retrace how I got here

I cheat the light

To check my face

And it feels slightly

Harder than last year

Still got dreams

But they arent the same

They dont fly as high

As they used to

And those wild imaginations 

Look me in the eye

As if to say, 

‘You dont remember us, do you?’

But I turn away, unable to face

Memories of what I wont be”

Slackening Ties

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It’s nearly nine hours into a day whose novelty is slowly wearing off, but it’s still three hours into yours. PHCN in emotionally unstable fashion restores power after another brief hiatus, and like a serial heartbreaker cum perennial flirt, you know that they will go away again, but you bask in the fleeting moments, switching on all the (functioning) bulbs and putting your fan on full spin. Half of your heart wants to tell your neighbour to save his hard-earned petrol, but you remember that he did not have your apartment in mind when he did the wiring, and you shrug as you head downstairs.

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Veinticinco (Or “Showing Up”)

31st July, 1990.
Warri, Bendel State.

“Isn’t the food here yet? ”

“Nna’m,  calm down, it’s almost ready. ”

Nna’m. That was how she addressed her husband. No sugary nouns, no shallow sweet-nothings, no expressions whose paper-thin weight you could even feel from the voice pitch. She loved him (dutifully at the very least), he protected her, she knew what she had to do around the house, he knew when to reach for his wallet, and that was it: the vintage West African couple, none of that Hollywood reality show faux gloss.

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THEY SHOULD HAVE KILLED CHIVALRY

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(The next lines you will read are inspired by true events that transpired in the final few hours of January 31st, 2016.)

“Bros, abeg help me check time. ”

“It’s eight-thirty right now. ”

He nods in acknowledgment of your response and places his foot a little more firmly on the throttle. It’s Sunday night in Lagos, few hours separating you from that month in the year where everyone becomes a poet and the prices of flowers and chocolates skyrocket. Lekki is the destination, and the roads look free enough to conduct a Grand Prix…..except for the Ajah axis, that is; you could end up in a traffic jam at eleven forty-five p.m in that part of town. In any case, you both are sure of getting to her place in less than forty minutes, where same would have taken one hour and a half on either of the five days of certain gridlock.

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Confetti

It’s finally here.  After years of hits and misses, reminders of promises made to a dying father, a gradually receding hairline, and fielding questions as to ritual oaths and even sexuality,  he finally takes a plunge into the deep and wavy sea called Marriage.  Yes,  it’s the day he finally decides to share his last name with someone,  the day he bids adieu to his youth,  the day evening hangouts lose their place to intimate family time.

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The Nine-To-Five Yearning

 

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12th November, 2015.

 

The Heart (or wherever this meets you),

A Beautiful Soul,

Somewhere in Obalende,

Lagos.

 

Dear Lola,

NOTICE OF SUBSISTING VOID

Please refer to our Whatsapp conversation of 9th November 2015 and previous correspondences on the above subject matter.

It’s another Thursday morning. I know I should be glad; the day even atheists thank God for is few hours away…..but this is not about counting down to the end of a working week, nor is it about getting a two-day reprieve from hell. No, this is more like total disillusion: Mind has joined heart in turning feet away from the office, my laptop is revolting, even the case files feel like they don’t want me to touch them. The boss orders me to retrieve a document from the computer on the table to my right, and as I lay my hand on the keyboard, I suddenly don’t feel like powering up the system, because I know what, or rather, who it reminds me of. Continue reading

Tar Blues

The bus windows are covered with curtains, but you violently pull them back. Nothing and nobody should stand in the way of a view of nature, and no one deserves to be obstructed from seeing the world outside, no, not even for the luxury of air conditioners. Then again, you need the view to clear your head; there had been a mix-up at the park over ticket prices and cash deposits, and the lady over the pay counter had thought it wise to resort to rudeness in the circumstances, forcing you to utter expletives in uncharacteristic fashion. It’s your first time at this transport company, and you know in your heart that they won’t get another chance at making a first impression. The fact that you have to settle for the back seat with your long limbs does not exactly assuage your feelings either.
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Red-Earth Yuletide

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“What was the point washing this car in the first place”?

He is right. Well, Fathers usually are. The season and the dust that accompanies it makes the task of washing automobiles a total waste of time, and the rural dwellings, dust battles for supremacy with the air you breathe. What are you doing in a rural area anyway? Well your family has (against your wish, of course) decided that this year’s Yuletide will be happening in your hometown. It’s your first visit in five years, never mind the fact that the distance between your village and your city of residence is just about 45 minutes. As the years pass, the exotic feel and the excitement of spending Christmas in the old country have waned. Maybe you would be a lot more enthusiastic if the distance was over six hours, like West and East. As a matter of fact, you no longer get it anymore, as to why people risk their lives each year traversing regions for an event that would barely last a week. But Father has spoken, and you have no choice. Continue reading

Sabbath Flow

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“Brethren, turn to your neighbour and say, ‘you are blessed’ !“

No, he didn’t just say that. Well, he couldn’t be blamed. This man of God was not exactly omniscient, so he couldn’t possibly have known that you have been holding your breath at intervals for extended periods because the brother who is seated to your left possesses a breath similar to the “aroma” of soaked cassava. Yes, it’s Sunday morning at “Password To Heaven Ministries”. Truth is, it’s your first time in a Christian gathering this year. Church is not particularly where you get to be found on Sundays, yes, age and education have ensured that you no longer subscribe to organized religion. Well you are here on this day much thanks to your friend Damian, who convinces you by saying that most pretty ladies in the city attend that particular church, and furthermore that the finale of the Singles’ Weekend is scheduled for that day. Continue reading

The Travel Journal

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It’s 9.35am. From the look of things, I got here just in time. I grab one of the few tickets left for this particular bus. Thankfully, I’ve missed that conscience-pricking sermon, I saw that grim-faced motor park preacher stepping aside as I came towards the bus. It also appears that there will be no physically challenged persons hounding us here today, I just saw them leave, and it’s not like I have a low naira denomination to give out anyway. I slot into the third row, as my long limbs make it detrimental for me to sit at the back, no matter the distance. I have the Chief Organizing Tout to thank for creating the space. He has directed someone with a much smaller frame to give up the seat I am now going to occupy for the rest of the journey. When it comes to this transport company, I know better than to sit in the row directly behind the driver’s seat; all kinds of luggage get fixed there, making it difficult for anyone seated there to have room for those necessary body adjustments. Continue reading