Any Seven Stories From My Life [2]


An Oblique Commentary on Masculinity

The first fight I won wasn’t even a fight. A boy my age but many times my size made fun of my oversized head. I was hurt, so I swung my fist, connected with his jaw, and two teeth flew out. That December night was dry and we were at a Christian camp for kids, sitting under a tree on a carpet of brittle leaves. If his teeth hadn’t flown out after that punch, it would have been my whole set of milk teeth diving into the leaves.


The first time I watched Mowgli in Jungle Book, I felt so bad for him I ran to my room to stem the tears that threatened to fall. How I went from that boy to one who would search for tears in moments of pain baffled me for years, because although I gained an understanding of the value of crying I just couldn’t do it. I’d convinced myself for years that it was a weak thing to do. It was a thing of pride in secondary school to withstand beating from the teachers without a hint of tears.


In the first of the years I spent at home between finishing secondary school and going to the university, I obsessed over becoming physically fit. I did push ups, headstands, and even found a heavy iron bar in the old garage behind the house that I used to work my biceps. That was the same period when my siblings and I would, after a day playing soccer, lie on the floor of our room, and listen to Don Moen or Jim Reeves sing out of mother’s old cassette player. Of course the fitness fad didn’t last. I soon returned to my routine of playing soccer in the afternoons, watching movies in the evenings, and reading books and listening to music at night.


I can’t ride a bike, swim, or lick my elbow.
I used to play table tennis, soccer, and lift buckets of water every morning up the hill in Nkwelle.
I now walk through Mushin on my way home, climb the stairs, and dream about driving everywhere but Lagos.


While serving in Anambra, I had migraine episodes that would often last for a week or more. One evening, in the middle of one of such attacks, some students—boys—were shouting in front of the lodge. A corps member asked them to leave, but they refused. Their noise intensified, each sound amplified to pain in the sound chamber: my throbbing head. I went outside and shouted at them, but they just scattered and regrouped like marching ants in contact with a small pool of water. I saw a cutlass beside the door and flung it at one of them. They did not return.


Going to the Gym is described in a New Yorker piece about Max Grief’s Against Everything, as buying into a “soul-destroying managerialism that has disguised itself as a means of enhancing “life.”” This, not laziness or apathy towards my body, will now become my reason for refusing to enter a gym. But my back hurts too much.


After a month of trying to get a medical report that should have taken three days, the man in charge of reports at the university clinic finally brought out the two-paragraph letter I needed. When I pointed out a mistake in the letter, he shrugged and asked that I return the following week to pick it up.

“Are you sure I’ll get this then?” I asked.
“You know what,” he replied, “I can’t say. You just have to keep coming back.”
I wanted to knock him out. I needed the report to prevent losing a year of school. “What do you mean by that? Isn’t this your fault?”
He was elderly. His face looked like I really did strike him by questioning him.
“Don’t shout at me young man.”

Then I started to shout. The nurses tried to calm me down, and one of the doctors joined them too. They asked me to explain what was happening. I sat down and started to shake, for I knew to explain would be to start crying. I’d lost a lot in the preceding months, and the man was part of a series of human and non-human circumstances I couldn’t control. I eventually narrated the story, and got a corrected letter in fifteen minutes. And although tears did not come out of my eyes, I’m sure I cried that afternoon.

© IfeOluwa Nihinlola 2016

IfeOluwa Nihinlola writes essays and short stories and has been featured in online magazines such as Afreada, Omenana, Klorofyl, and Litro. He works as an editor and is an inaugural fellow of aKoma’s Amplify fellowship. He is a fan of Zadie Smith, is looking for a replacement for Pringles as muse, and blogs at ifenihinlola


Photo Credit:


©Timi Yeseibo 2016

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

39 thoughts on “Any Seven Stories From My Life [2]

  1. Beautiful! I enjoyed this piece very much and could relate with most of the stories here, especially Story 2. The Jungle Book left a sobering feeling that lingered for days and visited every now and then for many years.

    Great narrative.

    Liked by 2 people

        1. When people heard that I had migraines during that year in Anambra, some of the responses were, “oh, that’s a woman’s illness.” And I’d never thought of it that way in all my life, even though I’d been having such episodes long before getting to Anambra. Of course they were right, as materials I read about it online showed, just that I’d never thought of them that way.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Enjoyed the narrative of your seven life stories. Always interesting getting another male’s perspective on growing up and dealing with the thousand natural shocks and arrows that existence throws our way as we make our way through life. I can relate! Brother I feel your pain! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Had this conversation yesterday about how some of the concepts about what it means to be a man, are universal.

      On a women’s chat forum, responses to the question of how they felt about men who cry had me chuckling. One lady’s response was: I don’t mind him crying, as long as he doesn’t cry more than me. 🙂

      Thanks Benn.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Re, I feel your pain: thank you.

      @Timi, I was reading a excerpt from a piece today that suggested the idea of masculinity and the present narrative that it’s failing or disappearing is sexist. I found it very fascinating and hope to read the full piece later in the week when I have time.

      Lol at the lady’s response. So how do we measure those tears? A measuring cylinder for the tears, or a graduation of the situation that causes the tears?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sounds like a piece I’d like to read too. I don’t know what measure is to be used to weigh the tears. But the picture of a man weeping profusely seems like an anomaly …


  3. I learnt how to swim as an adult but was never afraid of water. Most people never believed I couldn’t swim because waves and all intrigue me. When I finally learnt to swim I couldn’t get enough of it, even as I type this I am swimming. But it’s all in my head.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. It’s interesting to know what are the inner workings of the mind of a boy to manhood this post tells a lot. I don’t have a brother but I have a son and sometimes wish I could have a peek into what’s going on in his mind. This post sheds some light. Good job as usual thanks Ife.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I learnt plenty too. I quickly recognized that ‘gym’ phase; that wanting to build muscles and have a 6-pack. I also don’t know when the transition happens from crying to not crying. I found it interesting to have a peek of ‘how’ it happens …. convincing yourself ….

      Liked by 2 people

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