January, In Retrospect

january-time

From my window, the strains of a fight enter my room. I have never enjoyed boxing, the punches too violent for me to stomach. I do not look out of my window, but I know the fight will not take place when I hear, “Do you know who I am? Hold me! Hold me before I slap this idiot! I say do you know who I am?” The ruckus dies shortly, and I smile. They say the time to quit is before you wish you had.

I have heard it said that time is faster in retrospect than in the present. Not for me, not in January. My January ran like a cheetah in the Serengeti, fast and focused. Projects that involved what I love, making sense of words, made me think of quitting something else I enjoy, making sense of words—blogging. As my days turned to nights, and nights, days, I thought I would surely arrive Sunday with empty hands, no blog post to show. January seemed like a good time to quit.

In Lagos, there is a choreography to a fight you do not want, your true intent masked by halting forward motion. The aggressive advance to your opponent’s eyeballs, the flexing of arms, legs too; and most importantly, the words that shrivel your opponent’s courage and makes him, and you back down; words, more effective than punches.

I had promised myself that in January, I would do my best writing. The promise, a noble thing, naively made at the cusp of a new year, looked undoable just a few days into the year. Work overwhelmed me. I had put my heart and soul into writing Love is a Beautiful Thing, for which, I received praise, and I thought, if I quit now, I will be quitting while I am still ahead.

Few people want to brawl on the street, tearing shirtsleeves and rolling in the ground, mixing sweat with dust and grass. Or else, why throw words in the air, heightening tension, for a boxing match that is not pay-per-view? Why not just fight? 

I fantasized about quitting blogging last year. I had not anticipated the upheaval that moving would bring to my routine and the loss of my support group—people like me, who wow over language and the chemistry of words. But then, ideas would come. Starting a series or surprising myself with beautiful prose would mesmerize and energize me, reminding me that writing is my core. In January, my notes—observations about people and places hastily scribbled on my phone—rescued me. From them, I crafted the stories you read.

I realize now that the fight that did not take place had only one voice. Why was the other man silent? Is that what cowards do to end a fight? What if the crowd had not mediated with, e don do, abeg, e don do? Maybe he was sizing up the aggressor to determine the cost of peace. I should have looked out of my window.

I saw a quote that said: if you get tired rest, don’t quit. January was busy; a blessing in an economy where some people can only siddon look. Someone remarked after reading one of my blog posts that writers lead the most interesting lives. We do not. We have just learned to make sense of words. I am glad I did not quit. Come quick, February.

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E don do, abeg, e don do – an appeal to stop
Siddon look –  do nothing, in this context, because of the recession

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© Timi Yeseibo 2017

Photo credit: https://pixabay.com/en/time-past-watches-timepiece-1897986/

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 livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

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Much Ado About Something

lagos-airport-night

The man seating across the aisle from me is what Nigerians call Kora, which loosely means that he hails from somewhere in the Middle East—Lebanon, Syria, Israel.

“Excuse me, excuse me,” he calls to the flight attendant. “Can I use the toilet over there?”

He gestures to the business class section, which will be cordoned off with curtains after the airplane takes off and reaches cruising altitude.

The flight attendant says, “There is a toilet over there,” and points down the aisle.

The man and I are seating on adjacent sides of row 11, immediately behind the curtains that define our class; those seats with a little more leg room and no trays.

“But that means I have to go to the back.”

He speaks with a Nigerian Pidgin accent. I place him as Lebanese. Many Lebanese families have been in Nigeria for generations.

The flight attendant is quiet, his expression stoic like a doctor.

“What’s the difference? Is it not the same toilet?” the Lebanese man turns his hands so his palms facing upward, are asking the questions too.

“It’s for the business class passengers sir.”

My view is limited, but the business class section looks empty and passengers have stopped entering the airplane.

“Yes, but what’s the difference? Is it not the same toilet?”

“Sir, you can use the toilet at the back.”

“That means I have to walk all the way to the back. This one is closer.”

The Lebanese man places emphasis on the word all, in a way that reminds me of how petulant teenagers roll their eyes. I peg him at between 47 and 52 years old. His stomach strains against the buttons of his white shirt and his hair is mostly grey with silver highlights.

He looks at me, maybe because I have been following the conversation, but I look away. Although I am fully Nigerian, I have no desire to moderate the debate.

The flight attendant adjusts a bag in the overhead luggage compartment. It seems like a passive way to deal with a belligerent child.

“The toilets in the back are cleaner than those in business class, sef,” the man tacks this sentence to the conversation, like an insult.

It should provoke a reaction, but it does not. The overhead luggage compartments demand so much of the flight attendant’s attention.

He continues, “I have been waiting since 9 in the morning for my flight. You people are just useless.”

My 13:30 flight was also grounded. All Lagos-bound passengers finally boarded this 18:30 flight. I commiserate with him.

Communication is like dance and grouse takes many forms. If a man asks a woman, what’s wrong, and she answers, “Nothing,” he knows that something is wrong. The toilet, business class or economy, is not the problem here.

“I’m very sorry about that sir.” The flight attendant’s voice has a professional inflection, sympathetic but detached.

“Sorry, sorry. Take your sorry. I don’t need it!”

Minutes later the flight attendant demonstrates the safety instructions coming from the airplane’s public address system. Twenty minutes into the flight, the man ambles down the aisle, all the way to the back, to the toilet. The flight attendant serves refreshments. The man gists with his travelling companions in Lebanese.

I am still rolling their conversation over in my mind, intrigued by it because of something I once read: two monologues do not make a dialogue.

What if the man had started out by stating his displeasure over the delayed flight and the inconvenience it caused, explaining his tiredness because of waiting all day in the airport, before requesting to breach protocol, would the outcome have been different? 

But in Nigeria, to be polite is to be weak and to be aggressive is to be right.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2017

 

Photo credit: Photo credit: artforeye via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

 

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More Than the Sum of All That

compass

My aunt is wearing a striped tube dress with spaghetti straps. When she sits, love handles circle her tummy like three rubber tires. “Timi, where have you been?” she asks, but does not expect an answer. I am there and it is enough. She sucks me in a tight embrace, her warmth spreading over me, her smile wide. 

The years apart are too many to fit into an evening. We make small talk highlighting the events that count. Did I hear what happened to her son? Only God could have saved him. And what about me and my hopes for tomorrow? I do not burden her with sad news; there is no need to slow down the tempo of the music we are making. Soon we are silent, each of us locked in our world, making sense of words.

When my sister says, “Aunty you look as young as ever,” she returns to the present.

“No o. I am old.”

My sister counters, “You’re looking young. No one would believe if you tell them your age.”

“Please don’t deceive me, don’t give me false hope,” she says like a woman who has been lied to and preyed upon. She pats her Halle Berry wig and looks at me with a small smile.

She is seeking corroboration from me. I cannot just give it, mouthing empty words. I do not know how old she is. I have no compass with which to navigate true north, therefore I cannot tell if she is indeed looking young. Having not seen her for years, in which I harboured memories of her younger fashionable self, she is in fact looking old to me.

My sister and my aunt continue the cycle of compliments and weak rebuttals. I fight within myself. Where is true north?

“Things separate from their stories have no meaning. They are only shapes. Of a certain size and color. A certain weight. When their meaning has become lost to us they no longer have even a name. The story on the other hand can never be lost from its place in the world for it is that place,” Cormac McCarthy wrote. 

My aunt’s husband is long gone; one son is far away, the other closer by, and her only daughter died too early. She has forged a whole life for herself apart from them. Her carefully made up face—thin black-pencilled brows, two large dots of muted raspberry rouge, and red lips that complement her hazel skin—is like a photo from another era. She has weathered storms and raised many children that are not hers, including me. I sense her hunger to be seen and admired as I too have on occasion hungered to be seen and admired.

I stop fighting because I have conquered myself.

“Aunty,” I say, “You look young and beautiful.”

It is not false hope; it is true. I remember learning that a (magnetic) compass almost never shows true north. True north is different from magnetic north, which changes depending on local magnetic variation. About a million years ago, the position of magnetic north even wandered closer to the geographic South Pole.

I had planned to ask my sister how old my aunt is. But when we leave, I let the question die in my throat. What does it matter? I am in charge of my compass. Moreover, she is more than the sum of all that.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2017

 

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/compass-magnetic-orientation-801763/

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Hope, Our Common Denominator

hope

Our realities are splintered in Nigeria—along class, religious, ethnic, and other lines.

On the way to my hometown from Lagos for the Christmas break, I slept through most of the trip, but a few kilometers into the town, I opened my eyes and saw fog over the trees by the road. The chilly winds had not yet blown over Lagos in the days preceding Christmas, and Lagosians wondered if the harmattan had become another casualty of 2016. The faces at home, however, were already ashen, dry from the harshness of the harmattan. The economic recession that plagued the country seemed to have moved in the same direction as the dusty winds, enveloping small towns on its journey to the big city.

I only know of how hard things have become because I dwell in between the exuberant hope of Lagos’ upwardly mobile circles and the despair in the rest of the country. Twice, over the festive season, in Lagos, I heard people say that things aren’t as bad in the country as they seem and wanted to transport the speakers from the bubble of this vibrant city to my sleepy hometown. A part of me wanted to criticize them for being myopic, for thinking their experience was typical of the rest of Nigerians.

But the mind knows only what the eyes see. Yes, it’s necessary to imagine the lives of people different from us so we can be good, empathic humans, but there’s also harm in thinking people who can’t yet see others as others are, are evil. This almost always widens those splintering gaps between us to the point where they become gullies. But we are closer to one another than we think.

Despair can cripple the imagination and blind us, limiting our vision to the fears of the present. That unflappable belief that what lies ahead is better than what is behind is difficult to preach in the face of a crumbling economy and rising political tensions around the world, but hope is the thing we cannot let go of.

Many at the start of the year usually display this hope, this higher level of optimism. Ends and beginnings are like points on a Mobius strip. There’s really no difference in the way the days run, but somehow, by placing a marker in time, we are able to generate optimism, to look up for instructions or guide ourselves into better living.

“Radical hope is not so much something you have but something you practice;” the writer Junot Diaz said in the New Yorker, “it demands flexibility, openness, and what Lear describes as ‘imaginative excellence.’  Radical hope is our best weapon against despair, even when despair seems justifiable; it makes the survival of the end of your world possible.”

Even I, usually skeptical of the feel-good-nature of the start of the New Year, have set aside goals, lists of things I’d like to get done by the end of the year. This time last year, I had no plans beyond seeing the next day. Now I’ve added more material dreams to the basic necessities, but the desire remains the same: to live better. And I know I’m not the only one doing this. Both the millionaire in the mansion in Ikoyi and the starving civil servant in Osun state look forward to a better 2017.

We can expend energies arguing about the different degrees of better, but we all share the need to look in the future and see ourselves in better conditions than that which we’re in today. To lose that ability is to lose all verve to live. The least we can do, in the face of difficulty, is hope.

© IfeOluwa Nihinlola 2017

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/candle-light-dark-hope-flame-group-813005/

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2017

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 livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Love is a Beautiful Thing

love-beautiful

As I grew up, it sometimes seemed that my parents would throw invisible daggers at each other and the knives would miss, hit the wall, rebound, and lacerate my heart. I thought they might do better apart rather than together, but my mother was adamant that she stick things through, as if she were glue.

Close to thirty years have elapsed since those turbulent times. In war more than elsewhere things do not turn out as we expect. Nearby they do not appear as they did from a distance (Carl von Clausewitz, On War). Perhaps because my parents now speak of their departure like something imminent in the distance, they invite my sisters and me closer, and I see what I did not see then.

My parents tell us about their lives, the things we do not know that they think we should.

We ask my father how he met my mother. His story is like him, adorned with few words. He says that when he met my mother, she was suitably impressed with his house; he had a very nice house in Sapele. When he left Sapele for Lagos, my mother followed him there.

My mother protests and interrupts. She admits that although he had a fine house, she never ventured inside, did not even heed the catcalls of the boys in the area, who said, “Lady, notu you we dey call?”

We shush her gently and assure her that her turn will come. When it does, she counters his story. She says that on her way to school, my father and his friends would peep at her from their house. “I used to be very pretty,” she is matter-of-fact, “everybody struggled to talk to me, but I would just ignore them.”

When my father came to look for her, he was always well turned out in a suit and tie. Because she was afraid of her mother finding out, she met him at the corner and it was, “Hello, hello, by the window side.” A shy smile creeps at the corners of her mouth at this recollection. “But,” she says, “I did not give in for a moment.”

At this, my sisters and I laugh. We make jokes about standing at the corner. My mother laughs. My father laughs. It is a while before we collect ourselves to continue, lost as we are in our memories of teenage love and desire.

“I left for Lagos because I had a strong urge to succeed in life; Sapele was too small for my dreams. I did not leave because of your dad, but to find greener pastures,” my mother says.

“Okay,” my sister smiles knowingly and says, “he was your greener pastures.”

My father chuckles, “She pursued me to Lagos.”

My mother rolls her eyes in exasperation, “I said I went to find greener pastures!”

They bicker over the details of their romance, each wanting to come up tops, but it is playful, weighted by tenderness processed and matured over time. I do not point out that both their stories have holes they have not filled. Maybe they want to bring my sisters and me close enough and no further.

Young people often imagine, as I did, that the fires of romance in older people die out, their candles burnt and spent somewhere in their twenties. In my forties, I know this to be untrue. Watching my parents, I know that it will still be untrue in my sixties, seventies, and way beyond.

Love is a beautiful thing. 

©Timi Yeseibo 2017

 

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/tic-tac-toe-love-heart-play-1777859/

 

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 livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.