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: https://pixabay.com/en/shoe-sit-costume-tailored-suit-512133/
©Timi Yeseibo 2016
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