We Never Lose What We Value

Ife Nihinlola on Loss

It was the morning after a long night that I’d spent working on copy. I was sleep deprived and my mind was slow to react to things around me. So when my phone dropped to the floor, I reached for it sluggishly. The danfo that I rode in had body parts, which moved even after the bus stopped, held together by the ingenuity of welders and panel beaters. We were on Third Mainland Bridge at 6:30am and moving as fast as the dying engine could permit. I looked down, saw asphalt through a gaping hole, and knew I had just lost my phone.

Kathryn Schulz, in an essay titled, When Things Go Missing—a wonderful piece that stuck to my guts days after reading—quoted Abraham Arden Brill, who said, “We never lose what we highly value.” I have thought of the many ways in which this is false. We do lose things we value. They slip away from our hands, like my phone. One month without calling a friend becomes six months of not keeping in touch, and then a relationship is irreplaceably lost. The same goes for the loss of faith. It might be gradual, but the heart knows it is gone.

We groped the floor as the bus sped along the bridge. A woman with a little kid on her lap—bless her soul—kept dialling my cell phone as if calling it would make it reappear miraculously like a genie.  The bus conductor rearranged the jerry cans, wrenches, and other bric-a-brac stored on the floor beside the door. But as all this was going on, I knew my phone was forever lost. In my six months of using that little Samsung device, I’d grown to love its size, its understated beauty, and its hard metal shell that accommodates my clumsiness.

Phones have become a large part of my living, serving as everything: from library to notebook to entertainment system to life planner. Although I’m always in need of a good phone, my finances are set up in ways that replacing what is lost is a decision that has to be made with extra thought. Do I just buy a cheap phone whose loss, when it happens, won’t hurt at all, or do I buy a phone capable of meeting all my needs—which means it would have the capacity to store information that stands the risk of getting lost again?

Loss is an inevitable part of this world where everything, humans inclusive, comes with an expiry date. All kinds of loss can probably be read as a shadow of losing life in the end. “Regardless of what goes missing,” Kathryn writes, “loss puts us in our place; it confronts us with lack of order and loss of control and the fleeting nature of existence.”

Loss, of any kind, often works like a flood that cracks the dam of my mind. One minute I’m sad that I’ve lost my phone and the next I’m wondering about lost friends, lost time, and the brevity of life.

My reflex reaction to loss is to do everything I can to avoid pain. I spent most of my childhood learning how to avoid connecting with people to the point where I missed them in ways that make the heart break. But emotional insulation comes with its own kind of pain. One stands the risk of becoming stunted, incapable of fully expressing the range of feelings needed to make a healthy inner life, incapable of loving. One cannot afford, for fear of loss, to shut the heart to the joy relationships can bring.

Perhaps, the ultimate lesson in the loss of my phone is that after two decades and a half spent on this planet, I’m just learning how to live and love.

© 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/man-mobile-phone-person-smartphone-1868730/

 

©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.

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February, in Retrospect

language

February some say is the month of love. Work that should have been finished in January dragged into February and filled February with editing and late-night reviews. It meant that I put new projects on hold, but who was keeping tabs when love was in the air?

“How old are you?” I asked the man who seemed smitten by me.

“Thirty-six.”

“And you’re not married?”

He started to explain the difficulties of finding the girl of his dreams, and I realized he had read my question wrong.

“I just wanted to know if you’re married,” I said softly when he paused for air.

“Oh?” he said, and then smiled, reminding me of the way he looked a few days earlier, when he had accosted me at the supermarket with, “Let me help you, you look tired.”

I had been dragging my feet behind my shopping cart as though the sum of the hardships of living in Lagos, sat in it. He charmed me into small talk and out of my phone number.

Later when he called, his many compliments and my thanksgiving done away with, there did not seem to be anything left to say. I was surprised that a man, who had used a shopping cart effectively, could not find his voice. He must have interpreted my silence as a semi-colon because he said, “Your driver seems nice,” referring to that night when my driver retrieved my shopping cart from him and loaded its content into my car.

My driver is not nice; my driver thinks he should be my boss, but I did not tell him that. I asked him about his line of work instead of putting a full stop at the end of his sentence.

I persevered to get to know him because I am curious about people, not because my friend had said, “You never know, why not give him a chance?”

But I knew. A woman knows. I knew that I did not always want to be the one to steer conversation to a place of interest for both of us. I knew that I could not continue receiving SMS messages like this:

Gud mrn pretty. hw waz ur nyt. u r sum1 worth reely lykng. deres just sumtin abt u. hapi Sunday.

I would not, and none of my friends, would abbreviate their text messages like that. It would take too much brainpower.

“I think he lied to me,” I said to my friend, “about being thirty-six.” 

I replayed several incidents for her to decide. They revolved around language, or rather the lack of it.

“Or maybe he is thirty-six, but his brain is nineteen.”

We laughed; it seemed altogether plausible.

When our laughter subsided, I accused her of being cruel. She quoted Chavez, “Our language is the reflection of ourselves. A language is an exact reflection of the character and growth of its speakers.”

I was troubled by her inference. Wasn’t the shorthand way he fashioned text messages a positive measure of his ability to adapt to a mobile culture? Weren’t his text messages a genre of contemporary poetry; language is fluid, after all? Or, was it not more likely that the eight years between us equal a generation gap because as some have said, a different language is a different vision of life?

“Let’s keep it simple,” she replied. “It is either he’s nineteen or you are a grammar snob.”

In March, all my delusions will fall off.

 

© 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.

A Landscape of Friendship

friends-landscape

 

Sotonye and I were friends first. I forget now, how we met, that memory superseded by memories of our friendship: the innocence of it. We walked around town and hopped on buses to places too far to walk like the old amphitheatre at the university. One afternoon, we sat together on a leather beanbag, shoulders rubbing, while we fiddled with the controls of my parent’s Panasonic sound system. We took turns to put our cassettes into the tape deck and listen to each other’s mix tape.

“Sit apart!” my mother’s voice startled us. Before I could understand the implication of her words, Sotonye had sprung to the chair farthest from the beanbag, and from me, in the living room. That day heralded the beginning of the end of our friendship, I think.

After I met his best friends, Charles and Karibi, I saw Sotonye less and less. He caved under my persistent interrogation and admitted that he had kept a distance because Charles had warned him that girls like me could derail a guy’s destiny.

I should have told him that I was hurt, but I did not. I could have pointed out that in his stead, Charles was now spending more time with me, the destiny-stealer, and Karibi was a close second, borrowing books from the library to feed my love for books, but I did not. Universities were on strike and Sotonye was convinced that his future lay in the United Kingdom. His plans to relocate consumed his focus.

Ten years have passed since the alliance—three boys, then two boys and one girl— we formed crumbled because we grew up and went to discover ourselves on the map.

Presently, Charles and I are having lunch after a chance encounter earlier in the week, and I am reminding him of how we met. He is laughing so hard, he begins to cough.

“That’s not how it happened, didn’t I meet you first?”

“You wish,” I say, rolling my eyes.

“I can’t believe I did my guy like that!” He slaps his thigh, still amused.

“Better believe it; do you know where Sotonye is now?”

“Last I heard he’s still in the UK, directing theatre productions or something weird like that. That’s what Karibi said when I bumped into him, last year.”

“Karibi . . .” I say wistfully.

“You always liked him. That traitor who swooped in when I left for school—”

“No, it wasn’t like that at all. He was like a big brother to me.”

“Yeah, right!”

“Go away joor. He was the sweetest boy I’ve ever known.”

“That’s because he didn’t shave your head. Abeg, leave that thing!”

“We all were great friends . . .”

“Yes,” he agrees, “but you did not understand boys.”

We distill years past by exchanging phones and swiping photos, who’s this and where’s that, make our puzzle pieces fit faster. But photographs cannot capture all. Suddenly, Charles looks down at his drink and admits to being a closet alcoholic.

“It’s not so bad,” he says, looking up at me.

I nod. In the movement of my head and the steady gaze of my eyes, there is no judgement.

“Why don’t you tell someone who can hold you accountable on the road to recovery—”

“What! You haven’t changed! You’re still naïve . . . like back then . . .”

I trace the rim of my glass with my finger, uneasy and unsure of what he means.

“You still think everyone is like you, and everything is black and white,” he answers my unspoken question.

“No not really—”

“You trust easily. Haven’t people hurt you . . . enough?”

I sigh. Maybe I should not have let him look at all my photos.

“I am no longer afraid of getting hurt. But this isn’t about me. Isn’t your secret too heavy to bear alone?”

“I’ll survive. I haven’t told anyone . . . I don’t even know why I told you.”

I know why he told me. In just two hours, we have travelled back to the road leading to my parent’s house, where, unable to stop his voice trembling, he confided in me about his parent’s impending divorce.

The moment passes and we reminisce about happier times, about the place near the overhead bridge where we met in the evenings after Sotonye left. Charles would arrive with a packet of cigarettes and after he dragged on a cigarette a bit, he passed it round. I took tentative puffs while Karibi backed away as if it were a snake, reminding Charles of his asthma and me of the dangers of lung cancer.

“I gave up smoking,” Charles says. “Best thing I ever did.”

I nod again.

“You were the glue . . .” he begins.

“Nah,” I say, “Sotonye—”

“It’s true, everything was centred around you.”

He signals to the waiter for another drink. I shake my head, no.

“Do you think . . . answer me honestly, Charles . . . that boys and girls can just be friends?”

His answer is slow to come.

“I don’t know,” he says at last. “Even back then, Sotonye, Karibi, and I, wanted more.”

 

© 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.

 

After Sorry, What Next?

sorry-construction

 

“Busyness is a myth. It’s a weapon that people who no longer love each other use against each other.”

“My schedule has been crazy—”

“Babes, I’m busy too, but I create time—”

“But I’ve been really busy you can ask—”

“Ok. Fine. The question is, ‘Do you still love me?’”

“Hmmm. That’s really not the point . . .”

“That’s not an answer.”

“It’s just that I cannot cross that line . . . Like when I was young and I had this dream . . . like I was going on an adventure. My friends and I would be running through a meadow. The grass was warm underneath my bare feet but the sun was never too hot . . .strange . . . but anyway, some kids would stop to pick wild flowers, others to rest, but I was always excited and focused on getting to . . . anyway, I would come to a stream that I could not cross because I could not swim. The other children would jump in and call out to me to follow suit, saying the stream was not deep. I woke up at the edge of the stream . . . every time!”

“You’ve never told me about that dream. It’s interesting.”

“I cannot just forget that you . . . that—”

“I’m not asking you to suddenly develop amnesia, but our memories should serve us not hinder us. Babes, haven’t you forgiven me?”

“Of course, I have. It’s just that—”

“Look, I don’t even think that we really really forget, but I think we can remember without the sting of pain . . . When my brother died—”

“Ah ah, are you trying to compare your brother’s death with—”

“No, I was just trying to illustrate . . . Never mind . . .”

“Well I don’t know. I’m not there yet.”

“Babes, it’s been nine months. Nine months with the sword of Damocles hanging of over my head—”

“You betrayed me!”

“I did. I am sorry.”

“I know and I just need time. I don’t think it’s fair for you to rush me. You hurt me deeply.”

“I’m so sorry, babes. I’ve done all you asked of me to make us work. I’ve done all I know to do.”

“Yes I know and now I’m asking you for time.”

“Do you still love me? Look at me . . . Do you?”

“You hurt me.”

“Babes, you don’t have to allow the picture of what I did blind you to all the good I did in the past and all the good I’m doing now—”

“That’s the problem you always prescribe how I should act! It’s not your prerogative, it’s mine!”

“I’m sorry. I just miss you so much.”

“Well, I hope you can understand. I just need time. Just give me time.”

“Can I hold you? Come here . . . sit . . . just relax . . . Babes, I’m not doing anything, I just want to hold you . . . that’s better . . . relax. I want to share a poem with you.”

“Sure. Whatever. You know I don’t do poetry.”

“It’s a short one, don’t worry.

And still, after all this time,
The sun never says to the earth, ‘You owe Me.’
Look what happens with
A love like that
It lights the Whole Sky
.

Well? . . . well . . . what do you think?”

“Hmmmm. The dream . . . hmmmm. I never made the connection. Maybe that’s the reason I never learnt how to swim.”

 

 

© Timi Yeseibo 2017

 

Photo credit: https://pixabay.com/en/site-website-under-construction-1561769/

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.

Soul Food For The Hair

hair-soul-food

My hairdresser arrives my home at 10 a.m., two hours later than I would have preferred.

“My brother, ma,” she begins by way of explanation.

“Happy New Year,” I say, waving her apology aside, my mind on my missing WiFi dongle. 

She arranges her wares on the sofa—combs, hair extensions, conditioner—priority and proximity guiding her placement. I plop my iPad, phones, and a folder on the other sofa, where a full-length mirror sits. Then I sit on a rattan dining chair, facing the sofa so my reflection is visible to me.

“This is how I want my hair to look.” I lift up my iPad for her to see the photo of a model, and then lower it, using my fingers to slide the screen and zoom in on her hair.

“But, she used a different kind of hair extension—”

“Are you sure?” It looks as if they just layered the extensions to get the look—”

“No, the extensions are different.” She points at the photo and then pulls out my hair extensions from the pack to show me.

I sigh, spilling my disappointment around the room. I am not convinced, but she is a hairdresser not a magician. Although I know the photo has been airbrushed to perfection, still, I want the look.

Her hands are gentle as she parts sections of my hair and weaves them into cornrows. She knows all the secrets my full head of hair holds and an easy camaraderie exists between us.

“How have you been?”

She talks about her dream of studying film in Australia, and then tells me about her recent work on the set of a film, how an actress accused her of cutting her hair around the temples.

“Ma,” she says, “can you imagine? Me that my fingers are so light, I’m even afraid of holding hair tight!”

I nod. “So what did you tell her?”

“I was so angry! Hmmm. I didn’t say anything!”

I laugh and she laughs too. It is not odd that she swallows injustice and later regurgitates it to a listening ear. The customer has might and is always right. My validation is the closest thing to fairness that she will get.

“Don’t mind her. Your hand is feather light. I hope she didn’t get you in trouble.”

“No, the director knows I never touch her hairline while styling.”

After she completes the cornrows and starts crocheting extensions on them, I get lost in reading.

“It’s too much,” I remark when I look up to examine her work.

“It’s not too many. You will like it. Just wait and let me finish.”

A good hairdresser deciphers the subconscious desires of her clients. My hairdresser represents the part of me that bucks against conformity with random strands of blond extensions that she calls highlights. I squirm at my reflection because I want conservative hair and I do not want conservative hair. Zig Ziglar says that if people like you, they’ll listen to you, but if they trust you, they’ll do business with you. 

When she is done, I turn my head from side to side and smile at the result.

“How much do I owe you?”

We should have set the price before she began and I can insist on the amount I last paid. She looks at the ground before reluctantly meeting my eyes in the mirror.

“Ma, the price has increased because of the recession.”

We both laugh at our intangible exchange. I am proud of her because she has crossed a hurdle. She found the muscle to put her business before the indistinct blend of sisterhood and friendship that we share. I pay the new price without haggling.

She is young and her dreams are tall. I hope she does not one day respond to the vagaries of life with cold cynicism. Her combination of innocence and honesty is increasingly rare.

 

© 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.

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/

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.

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.