I’m the registrar of my group at the Mock Trials. Because the trials are coming up soon we’ve had to double up on our rehearsals. So every evening at five we meet at the hall adjacent to the Old Auditorium for practice, under the supervision of Dr. Chioke’s perpetual scowl. This evening we’re done and everyone’s dispersing. I walk up to Ugochi with whom I’d made plans to hang out that evening.
We had always sat close in class and I might have shared a couple of jokes with her but we seldom ever had a real conversation and frankly I had not had a real conversation with anyone here since I resumed. Or say, I have, but they were basically one-sided. Just other people heaping their private issues on me. For some reasons I yearned to really talk to someone—something that would go beyond my clowning. And so when Ugochi asked that we hang out I agreed, hoping to create a good context for a real conversation that went beyond banter. Oniri the previous day we had our first real conversation that was mostly about her and she reiterated that she wanted to know me beyond the surface. So, why not, amigo?
We start to walk towards Ojukwu Market through the traverse at the middle of the garden behind Adam and Eve hostel. The night is breezy and it feels very much like it’s going to rain.
“So,” she starts, “how have you been?”
“Well. . . Dunno”, I shrug. “Floating, I guess.”
“Hmmm. Floating. . .”, she says, as if testing the weight of the word on her tongue. “Tell me about it.”
This is how I’ve spent the last few months of my life: Floating.
I talk and talk. I’m here and there laughing with this, bumping fists with that. I’m interjecting in conversations I have no business with. I’m making lewd jokes. I’m giving funny remarks. I’m smiling at everything. At everyone. I’m arguing my guts out. I’m writing funny stuff on Facebook. I’m sleeping late and getting up early. I’m making friends faster than you say Hallelujah. This girl swears ka I talk to everyone on campus. I want to tell her no, that I only hide beneath the facade of lousiness to shade my own vulnerabilities, ka back in the room I sometimes don’t say shit to anyone, that back home my mother once regarded me an introvert (fucking unbelievable.) Ama I just smile and shrug and make another joke.
I’m finding a grip on my humour again. I somehow just find a funny edge to every shit, no matter how daunting it is. Folks remark on Facebook that law school has made me a clown. Ha ha. They say life gets softer for you when you can make people laugh. I don’t know about that. I just want to make people happier aguvi ka that is how I feel happier. Sometimes, I strike a conversation with a random friend and I ask, Are you happy? They just shrug tiredly and say, without any conviction, Ya, I guess.
We’re walking real slow, bumping into familiar faces after every three steps we take aguvi ka the school is a small place and everyone sorts of knows everyone. Plus we’re at Ojukwu Market where everyone convenes at night to get food and other necessities or just to hang out too. It’s still breezy but we know damn well the chances of rain falling is as low as a Nigerian politician resigning over accusations of corruption.
When I’m done talking, Ugochi doesn’t say anything immediately. We take a couple of steps forward and we bump into a gang of mutual friends and we exchange quick-fire banters before advancing towards the chain of restaurants at the market.
“So,” she says after the interlude, “is this how you’ve always been or did something motivate a change in attitude?”
“Well, I kinda feel like I have evolved over time,” I say.
“Was it a conscious decision or it just happened?”
“I think it was deliberate.”
This was how I was raised: Shy. Docile. Lethargic. Sometimes, phlegmatic. Always hiding. Always avoiding eye-contacts. Always trying to fade into the colour of the wall. Always getting lost into the crowd. Running. This was what I grew into: Timid. I remember every time I stood at the other end of my classmates’ punches, the tear dropping before the first blows landed. I remember skipping corporate prayers once because I was too afraid of being around people and Uncle Isaac caught me sleeping in the dorm. That devil gave me the meanest beat-up in the history of all beat-ups. Now I think about that night and I’m mad at myself for all the things I could have done but didn’t do.
I never really had a personality force. Aside from being the poster-boy for skinny niggers, I still don’t have a standout feature so I get easily lost in the crowd. Five years in the university and I never got randomly pointed out to answer a question or give a contribution in class. I never inspired any event of a significant consequence and I was part of no organisation. I wasn’t antisocial, but I wasn’t ready to invest a single ounce of energy on anything that gave me any form of special relevance. I went through my university without making the slightest impression on anyone outside my friendship circle.
(This girl Chioma, would, years after graduation, tell me that if she knew how good a writer I was back in school she would have made an effort to get close to me.)
Then I started to write on the Internet. The following came in bits and trickles but overtime it grew into thousands and tens of thousands of strangers latching on to every shit I wrote (OK not as sensational as I put it but still.) Suddenly I could walk through a street in a new place and a random person would walk up to me to say, Hey, I recognise you. Hey, I know you, I read you and I dig you. It was at this point I started to feel what I had lacked for most of my life: The confidence to become. It was at this point that I started getting uncomfortable with the ordinariness of my existence; and what used to be a fortress for me turned into a catalyst for the most crushing depression I ever had to go through.
I’ve come a long way since being that person. Now I’m a welcome nuisance to everyone—vociferously leading banters at group meetings; trolling the fuck out of rival football clubs at viewing centres; cracking up folks seated next to me in class; starting conversations with strangers I will never know their names and holding it out a bit then walking away while watching the edges of their mouths curl up into beautiful smiles.
You’re so sweet, I’ve been told. Maa ye, Mami Chula, I know.
Now, I do not fear the dark and all the things that fly at night. I do not fear death or all the things that I’m supposed to fear. Here are some of the things I fear: All of the things I cannot write about. All of the love I cannot return. All of the expectations I cannot meet. All the hurt I cannot hide.
We get to Anambra kitchen, at the front where Toochi fries yams and potatoes and plantains. By the time we get there I’m not done talking so we just linger a bit while she listens to me. When I’m done talking Ugochi asks what I’ll like to have for dinner ama I’m a bit confused. My food choices are always as complicated as a rich woman’s wardrobe dilemma. I ask her what she’ll like to eat and she says she’s settled for the night.
Sha. I order noodles and because it takes a while to make we have to either wait for it or go and come back for it. I suggest that we take a stroll and return after a while. We walk away from there and head towards Snake Island Hotels.
“That’s quite interesting o,” she starts the moment we turn away from Anambra kitchen.
“I know,” I say.
“So what else do I not know about you sef?” She contemplates. Which is funny to me because there’s an amazing shit load of stuff happening in my life she doesn’t know about. “How’s your heart?” She asks suddenly, as though it just hit her that I have a heart and that it is important for her to know the state of things going on there.
“How do you mean?”
“OK OK let me ask a less ambiguous question.”
We both laugh. This time we’re walking past the clinic, towards the bend that leads to Snake Island.
“So how’s your family, your girlfriend, your law school chicks and all of them?”
We laugh again.
“Which girl did you give me in this school o”, I say.
“Comot for here. All those girls you’re always joking with nko? Answer me jare.”
FAMILY, LOVE AND ALL OF THAT SHIT:
I miss my family. I swear I do. I think of Roseline and Oyiza and my heart swells into a bubbly squishy ball. Five full months away from home (the longest stretch of time I’ve ever away from there) has made me more sensitive about my consanguinity. I take my dad’s calls booro aani even when I’m not broke. Sometimes, I even call grandma. Sometimes. Other times I just lie in bed thinking of all the things I’d do for them if I could. My dad calls at a less desperate frequency now, just to say, Saa happen? Ete meya? Also talk about politics and football maybe. Strange enough I now enjoy those conversations. One day he asks me how it’s been with the girls. I laugh it away and we quickly move past the awkward conversation.
But yeah it’s been pretty rough.
My girlfriend broke up with me on her birthday with a voice note. We’d stopped talking for a while, I just didn’t have the balls to be the one to end it. She let it land soft, the one-hundred-and-seven-second long voice message ending with “You’re special, you’ll always be special.” That night I walked through the rain to smoke some J’s, and when I got back to the hostel I crashed on my bed and zoned off. Spent all night dreaming of her ama the next morning I didn’t feel shit. Just bathed and went to class like I didn’t just bottle an almost two-year strong relationship.
After the breakup I was initially very reluctant to break the news to my friends aguvi I was a bit ashamed of having lost her, not because I loved her so much (which I did, to an extent) but because ka I felt like I could have put in more work to make the relationship work. The way the relationship faded off left me with a lot of questions. We didn’t have a major fight and there were no allegations of infidelity. Times we spent together physically were magical and we were very much alike ideologically. Ama all these weren’t enough to sustain the incendiary of passion between us. It just felt like the more we were together the less we needed each other. I admittedly became disillusioned with the relationship weeks before it ended and had started preparing myself for a post-breakup therapy ama the big question is how much does distance affect the excitement of intimacy?
Maybe it was the distance. Maybe it was because of the new environment I found myself and how much I’d started to invest myself into non-virtual interpersonal relationships. Maybe it was this and maybe it was that. Long and short is, me and the girl you used to know as my girlfriend are not together anymore and we’re both enjoying the aftertaste of it all.
On Valentine’s day I ask a girl out to our cocktail party and she says she isn’t coming but later that night I see her with another guy being happy together. I go back to my hostel and stand in front of the mirror and I tell myself that I ain’t shit. I ain’t shit. I ain’t shit. Funny because by the time I pick my phone I realise there’s a number of warm valentine messages from ladies I ignored. Life is a motherfucker and karma slaps you around if you let it. Funny because you could literally have thousands of people telling you how brilliant and amazing you are ama one person could make you question your self-worth. Funny because I’m the chief crusader of Don’t Let Anyone Make You Feel Like You Ain’t Shit.
The breeze is getting more turbulent and all of a sudden there’s an air of urgency to movements around us. We’re at Snake Island now, standing in the reflection of the bright halogen light pegged at the top of Block E. Ugochi’s arms are crossed and she’s wearing that annoying pity-face I have now come to repulse. I poke her shoulder and tell her “drop that face jor” and she laughs weakly.
“I’m so sorry, Victor”, she says with a sincere sobriety, her voice laced with all the empathy in the world.
“Come on jor,” I reply. I’ve never known how to respond to sympathy even though it summarises people’s reactions towards me for most of my life.
Efeosa walks by with another dude and sees me so he drops behind to bump fists with me. He greets Ugochi too and then turns back to me to make small talk before walking away. When he’s gone, Ugochi asks me how I know him.
“Na my guy”, I tell her, but she looks at me like she’s not satisfied with the explanation. “Why? What’s the deal?” I ask her.
“No nothing o. Just that I didn’t expect that you’ll both be close given how very different you both are.”
I totally dig her and I don’t pretend that I don’t, so I just chuckle. My features are soft and for some reasons, people have an easy, almost saintly impression of me when they first meet me. Sometimes I have to cut it out to them like, look, forget the guileful innocence of my face, I do some shady stuff too. Efeosa on his own has the rugged looks of the quintessential bad Bini boy, and he doesn’t do much with his countenance to veil this. So in essence, Ugochi is wondering how I, with all my softness, get to fraternise with Efe.
“Bar 3”, I tell her.
“Where’s that. . .” She starts to ask, “. . . and what do they do there?”
Here is where we congregate to sin. Just folks who generally share the same bad habits. Drugs and J’s basically. Here is where we carp about women ati politics ati everything related. It’s here I’ve made my most male friends from. A bloke shares a blunt with you once and suddenly you both become Gees, conscientiously hollering at yourselves every time you bump into each other in school. It is here boys unfurl, laying down all their macho guards and stripping bare of shits they wouldn’t talk about when sober. It’s here that Nedu—big guy, deep eyes, stony glare—bewails his fateful relationship with a chick who’s fucking with his psych. I tap his big arms and I say, “Naso life be. Free am. Girls choke.”
Maybe my eyes are prodding, maybe it’s part of the occupational hazards of being a writer, or eyara I’m just a good listener, ama my life, up to this point, is characterised with people who unburden to me without any significant effort from me. It’s like people just see me and feel like, this guy would have a stomach for my issues. I walk around a vessel carrying people’s hidden grief in my knapsack.
Eivi ka I’m complaining, though. Sometimes it feels good knowing ka people want to disembowel to you. That you’re the means through which they eviscerate the things that constrict their hearts. Ama other times, it’s different. Ainki this one breezy night a friend and I were walking back to the hostel and she was aching about her relationship, telling me about her boyfriend ati all the things he did and didn’t do, and my tongue stayed stiff aguvi ka it felt like she was talking about me.
By now we are walking back to the Market to get my noodles. We don’t talk much this time, as if letting the weight of the conversation settle properly over us. As we pass by the medical center again, she asks if I will write about my experiences in law school. On social media I write hilarious posts about funny things that are happening in law school, but then they are mostly gross exaggerations. Just for humour.
However, in truth, I keep a journal I’m not so faithful because even though it’s for my eyes only, my most profound experiences are things I’m afraid to put down in writing. I fear that writing them down will give it a sense of permanence, concretizing some memories I might want to do without. Now, I prefer to hide details of my real life shit within the lines of poorly written prose that I never get to complete because I fear that people will read it and see through the charade.
In the journal is a convolution of familiar names; of a friend of inestimable value who likes me enough to visit on some Saturdays with food for me and my friends; roommates I’m friends with even though I consider their thought processes too pedestrian; group members I dig; a couple of girls I used to like; a scruffy bus conductor openly hitting on me and a very bizarre story of a girl who I had to stop talking to because she was overly obsessed with fucking me. Lots of weed too. Ati drugs. And a rare intimate conversation with Priye where he’s asking me to get help.
I get my food and walk her back to her hostel. That night I walk back to my hostel feeling light as fuck, as though the weight of the world has just been lifted off of me. It’s been over a month since that night and Ugochi and I no longer talk.
In many years’ time, this is how I will remember my friends in law school: Not very happy but contented, their animated faces behind a fog of smoke, rapping along to a Kendrick’s verse. Eyes tinted red.
This is how they’ll remember me: Floating.