The Appointment

Samuel Okopi on Loss

As a child, I longed to be baptised. I cannot remember a time while growing up as a Pentecostal Christian, that the opportunity to be baptised presented itself to me. Baptism felt like a watershed moment from which I would rise a complete Christian.

My secondary school didn’t provide for Pentecostal services so I attended Anglican services instead. One Sunday, our reverend father announced that students who desired to be baptised were to register and attend baptismal classes. These classes would run throughout the term.

I was elated. My golden opportunity had come.

Classes started soon enough. As a junior student in boarding school, time is an archenemy, and the threat of senior students commandeering your time for their selfish purposes always looms. Still, I managed to attend virtually all the classes and committed to memory, the cryptic questions and answers contained in the catechism we were given.

The long awaited day of baptism finally came. We were to assemble at the chapel by 4 p.m. for onward procession to the river bank. I was writing Junior WAEC exams and luckily, the only paper I had that day ended by 2 p.m.

Halfway into the exams, our fine art teacher came into the hall and announced that students must obtain poster colour sets from her, that afternoon, for the fine arts exam holding the next day. Art is my great passion and doing well at it mattered to me. I submitted my answer sheet long before others and dashed to the studio to get my colour set.

I met the studio door locked. The fine art teacher came an hour and thirty minutes later. By that time, the area around the studio was swarming with students. I spent the next two hours hustling to get my set.

The battle finally ended. As I walked back to the hostel with my colour set, all I could think of was having a bath.

4 p.m. Chapel. Baptism. My appointment with spiritual death and resurrection!

The time was already 5.30 p.m. I jumped into my white trouser and white shirt and raced to the chapel.

There was no one in white-and-white when I arrived and I didn’t know the location of the river. An old man I recognised as one of the cleaners, walked by and I asked him what direction the students in white-and-white had taken. He pointed at the way I had come. I didn’t wait to hear him begin his statement.

I kept running even though I wasn’t sure where I was headed. Soon, I spotted an array of white-and-white marching towards my direction. Before long, I had caught up with them.

I saw my close friend—with whom I had memorised the catechism over the last twelve weeks—and anxiously asked him about the baptism. There were tears in his eyes. At that moment, I received a divine revelation that abiding in his eyes were not tears but the holy water of rebirth.

I lost myself to deep reflection over what had just happened as I turned back and walked a lonely footpath leading to my hostel. I had lost an opportunity that had eluded me for seven years. At some point, I met with the ground, wishing I could go under. The dirt, the weeds, and their budding relationship with my white-and-white deepened as I thrashed about, seeking the kind of catharsis that can come from shedding the waters of sorrow.

A wise man, who may remain unknown, once said: “Hell is the knowledge of opportunity lost; the place where the man I am comes face to face with the man I might have been.”

Two years later, I got another chance to meet the man I looked forward to becoming. And this time, the pain of memory ensued I kept my appointment for the meeting by the river.

© Samuel Okopi 2017

Samuel Okopi loves to sing, design, and fantasize about the future. He believes there is no end to learning and so, for him, every tommorrow is pregnant with new opportunities to inch closer to perfection.

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/time-watch-clock-number-minute-1842099/

 

© 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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She Always Will Be

Tomi Olugbemi on Loss

Dying does not hurt the dead but I fear it is different for Mummy. I often worry that she may be grieving too, floating about in some existential plane and mourning the absence of her husband and children. I chew on the meaning of rest in peace. Is it mere banality or is death a form of rest? Perhaps it affirms the belief that eternal bliss follows dying.

I was angry that barely two weeks after the funeral; a guest minister at church preached on God’s healing power. I was angry that many people believed her death to be God’s will: that He knew best, and Mummy’s time had come. I scolded myself for not coming home months before she passed and for believing that she was on a path to recovery. When Faith Evans voice came on the radio, three days after Mummy died, singing: every single day, every time I pray, I’ll be missing you; I closed my eyes, tightened my jaw, and wept on the inside, instead of telling the taxi driver to change the channel.

In Mummy’s death, I lost the only person whose personality traits perfectly mirrored mine. I took after her in the way she swallowed her pain to soothe others and in how she folded into herself and feigned wellness even when sickness or depression ate from her vitality. We loved alike, silently but on full throttle, often walking the lines between worrying about a person and loving them intensely. We remained quiet in the midst of strangers but could be extremely goofy around familiar faces.

Grief is not as persistent as it used to be; my life continues and I have to concentrate on things besides carrying the weight of sadness. These days, grief visits in spurts, like a houseguest rather than a tenant, revealing itself as sudden re-realisations of loss when I place my mother before things: Mummy’s key. Mummy’s car. Mummy’s dresser. Mummy’s cancer foundation or while watching a mother die in a film and remembering that mine died too. Grief is the sadness in Daddy’s eyes masked with a smile when he abruptly interjects her name, Funke, while telling an anecdote about her. It showed on my brother, Dami’s, distraught countenance as we shot his graduation photos sans Mummy. And my other brother, Tofa’s wishful thinking on Twitter that heaven had visiting hours.

Like all the tragedies that have befallen me, I do not know that full recovery is sure. I do believe however, that in time, we adapt to regain normalcy by holding on to the love of, and for the departed; and conjuring their pith by drawing from past events. Thus, memories become more profound, more precious, like little vials of moonlight set aside for the days when the dark feels too present. Because even though they are dead, they breathe in reminiscence.

In losing Mummy, I am reminded of love’s eternal pursuit, its limitlessness, and how it travels beyond the boundaries of physical contact. That not even death can quell its power.  I have learned to still love what is no more. I have learned that loving another person is a life-long endeavour and that loss is not the end.

I hope that like Mary Elizabeth Frye, in her poem, Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep, Mummy is wearing a glinting smile, saying: do not stand at my grave and cry; I am not there. I did not die. Although she no longer is, she always will be. Rest in peace, Mummy.

© Tomi Olugbemi 2017

Tomi Olugbemi is a poet. He spends his free time fretting about words and recovering from pessimism. He blogs at tomiolugbemi.com.

 

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/tea-rose-corolla-caf%C3%A9-book-teapot-1871837/

 

©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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Loss is Present Continuous

‘Pemi Aguda on Loss

My story of loss is a story of losing. It is a story of the futility of will, and the limitations of drugs against the stubbornness of genetics, of body.

I start to write this story in my head while staring at myself in the mirror, combing Cantu-covered fingers through wet hair. As yet more strands of hair with white bulbs at their roots, which confirm closed follicles, leave my scalp, I know that I want to write about losing hair, the continuous loss of it.

Balding is a word I’ve come to love. Okay, like. It is not a kind word. Like the cold probing instrument in the hands of my trichologist, it zooms in so my scalp resembles a desert on the monitor, and it leaves no place to hide. Balding lacks the soft landing of hair loss, which is gentle in its s-es. As the tongue leaves the upper palate on the second syllable in bal-ding, friends flinch, and you might find yourself recoiling from the widening patches of gleaming smooth scalp.

In losing hair, you will meet your insecurities on the street. You will come nose-to-nose with the monster of your vanity. Your fears will move into the apartment next door with ashy bald heads, ears pressed to the thinning wall, waiting for your next sigh. You might even find yourself shifting to the second-person point of view mid-paragraph. Anything to distance yourself.

I have met the indignities of fighting hair loss. Rubbing onion juice and foul-smelling concoctions on a situation that my mother’s head, my grandmother’s head, and the trichologist’s report tell me won’t change. And yet the irony is that I reacted to expensive Rogaine with a face full of hair so that for the first time in my life I was worried about too much of that furry substance—multiplying on my legs, darkening my arms, lowering my hairline . . .  it grew everywhere but where I wanted it.

I want to say that I’ve found freedom in this losing. Like the woman who empties her savings and travels the world on hearing she has a month left to live, it would be nice to say I’ve gained some irreverence in styling my hair. That I now dye it in a range of colours that would make my mother clutch her heart. But no. Within this stubborn body is still a wishful soul.

In a way, every story of loss is a story of losing; it never ends. Scalp where hair used to be; pillow where a head used to be. But in the roots of the stubbornness of body is also the resilience of body. You will maybe hurt less every day and my hand will rise less and less to my scalp, searching.

I’m losing, but I’m adapting. What I see is that despite the futility of will and the limitation of drugs, adapting is a way for my stubborn body, not yet thirty, to forgive itself for its own shortcomings.

  1. Cantu – Brand of hair care product; conditioner.
  2. Rogaine – Minoxidil; slows hair loss and promotes hair regrowth.

© ‘Pemi Aguda 2017

‘Pemi Aguda writes short stories and flash fiction that have been published here and there. Her short story Caterer, Caterer won the Writivism Short Story Prize 2015. She co-curates the website, Nik-Nak.co

 

©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.

A Space Too Little Explored [5] The End

coffee end

Every man is trying to either live up to his father’s expectations or make up for his father’s mistakes.

The End

Wetin make you cry?” I asked the six foot two gruff security man.

A mattress leaned on its side against one wall and a spare blue uniform hung from a nail on the opposite wall. A small desk and chair on which he sat and lay his head completed the furnishing in the gatehouse.

After prompting him for a while, he replied, “My papa  . . . e die before I fit show am wetin I be.”

When im die?” I asked.

E don tay.”

A tender moment that never repeated itself. It was the second time I had seen a man cry. The second time was like the first. Both men were crying over loss of something that they had never shared with their fathers because death came too soon.

I have wanted to explore the relationship between sons and fathers for a long time. Finding men who were willing to tell their stories was difficult then as it is now although this time, I offered anonymity.

Two years ago when I approached a friend to contribute to a series on fatherhood, he said, “Do you know I live down the street from my parents and I hardly drop by? When I do, it’s because of my mother. My father, too much stuff going on there.” 

When I pressed, he said, “I’m just not ready to go there.” 

He is in his thirties now.

A writer I admire said, “We just discovered we have another brother who is twenty-eight! Don’t ask me about my father right now,” before going AWOL on me.

A recent conversation I had contained elements of estrangement I have come to know.

“I didn’t talk to my father for nine years. Well I wanted to, but he wouldn’t speak to me because I disappointed him.”

“How?”

“All my siblings followed the path he carved out for them based on what he perceived as their strengths. He read me wrong. I tried. I really tried not to waste the money he’d spent on tuition, but flunked the first year of school and then quit to do my thing.”

“Let me tell your story,” I urged. It will help someone.

“Dad and I just started talking again, it’s still too fresh.”

I understood and respected that.

When fathers don’t speak their sons’ love language, internal bleeding occurs on both sides. I am suspect of sons who proclaim that they don’t need their father’s affirmation. Sons, who admit that they need and would love to have their father’s affirmation, but have come to terms with not having it and the man they call father, feel real to me.

However, not all stories are punctuated with grief or trauma. There are many stories of afternoons playing ball at the park, evening conversations about what it means to be a man, and long-distance phone calls seeking advice on pressing matters.

Is every man trying to either live up to his father’s expectations or make up for his father’s mistakes? I think so. The dots were obvious to me as I read or listened to stories, even when the narrators were oblivious of the sub-plot of their lives.

Maybe one day I will author a coffee-table book with elegant photos of sons and fathers on one page and the story of their relationship on the other. I hope to paint an accurate picture, editorialized through the soft lens of a son who has received grace for his own mistakes and so better understands the shortcomings of his father.

To me, it remains a space too little explored.

 

Forget Batman: when I really thought about what I wanted to be when I grew up, I wanted to be my dad. -Paul Asay

P.s. Special thanks to Ayo, Tola, and A.C. for sharing their stories. I thank everyone who also shared their story by commenting on the series.

 

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

A Space Too Little Explored [4] Broken

broken

Every man is trying to either live up to his father’s expectations or make up for his father’s mistakes.

Broken

When I look back on my childhood, one word sums the hours spent playing football, riding my bicycle up and down our street, studying for exams, wincing as iodine was dabbed on a grazed knee, wrestling with friends, and fighting with my two brothers and only sister; carefree. My childhood was carefree because my parents, my father in particular, were careful to make it so.

Although he travelled a lot, my father always spent time with us whenever he was home. He was fun, rolling on the carpet with us, not a disciplinarian like my mother. I am the last-born. Deemed my father’s favourite by my siblings, I was the emissary who always obtained from him the favours they made me present to him as my idea. I wanted to be just like him when I grew up.

When I was sixteen, I returned from school to find my mother sitting atop a trunk box, as we called those silver rectangular chests with black trimmings, not attempting to hide her tears as she welcomed me home. A couple of my aunts cooed encouragement to her like mourners. My heart raced. Had someone died?

At my prodding, in a moment of weakness I suppose, my mother spilled the details of my father’s affairs. Nearly every family in our neighbourhood lived with the evidence of polygamy or infidelity: half-brothers, half-sisters, second and third wives, and aunties, who were really girlfriends. Although these educated and wealthy families had a veneer of sophistication and cohesiveness, their children, my friends, let me know that the glue that held their blended families together gave often.

I took pride in my family of six, one father and one mother and four children. The glue that held us together did not give way, until that day, that day when my dad stopped being my hero.

My childhood was no longer carefree.

My mother’s belongings were in the trunk box. She had been waiting to say goodbye to my older brother and me, the only children who still lived at home, before she left.

“Who will look after you?” She asked when I insisted that I, her last son, could take care of myself so she should pursue her happiness.

In the end, my mother decided to stay. Life at home was routine again with one change, I stopped talking to my father. I could barely look at him talk less of greeting him. The ball of anger in my heart grew larger and larger. To keep from hitting him, I avoided him altogether.

I felt betrayed by my mother. As she served my father’s food and they laughed at the dining table, I could not understand how she forgave him. But I could not hold a grudge against her for she reached out to me and asked me to forgive her for involving me in something that was not my business. Still I could not do the one thing she wanted from me: forgive my father and reconcile with him.

My father stopped paying my tuition or giving me pocket money because he said that he would not support any child who disrespected him. I still lived at home, and my mum and older siblings picked up where he left off so I was never in need. I grew to resent my father even more.

At nineteen, I met a youth counselor who took an interest in me and we grew close as we talked about various subjects including my father. He nudged me to forgive my father. I said that I could not forgive my dad, the hypocrite. To the charge of hypocrisy, he gently insisted that I was no better, pointing to the evidence in my hostel room of days and nights spent with different girls. I was in the university, changing girlfriends the way I changed my clothes.

“But,” I protested my innocence, “I’m not married to any of them!”

Yet, his words haunted me. Was I no better than my dad? Had I become what I despised?

It took three years of encouragement from the counselor, three years in which I left university and moved out of my parent’s home, for me to forgive my dad and accept that I would have to be the one to reach for reconciliation.

“Yes,” my dad answered, the first time I called him, “who is this?”

Had he forgotten my voice or was he pretending? I told him I just called to say hello and then he said okay. I listened to his breathing, heavy as though he was waiting for something more. Or was it my own breathing? My heart, beating rapidly, obscured my hearing. I hung up, exhaling euphoria like a deflating balloon.

But, the next phone call was easier as was the next one after that. Eventually we settled into a routine without awkwardness, conversing about the present and the future. We do not talk about the past, that five-year window when we became strangers. When you bury something and pack dirt on it, then stamp it with your feet, sometimes plants grow above and you cannot tell where you buried it.

The only reference we have made, if I may call it that, to the past, was when my wife and I needed a babysitter to fill in for our nanny’s three-month absence. My dad, who was visiting at the time, mentioned that his friend’s daughter, just out of secondary school and waiting to gain admission into the university, could help. We welcomed the offer.

My dad said, “Please she’s my friend’s daughter. I don’t want any stories . . .,” his voice trailed off but his eyes did not waver from mine.

I was tempted to share some wisecrack about his philandering days. Instead, I said, “Dad, you don’t have to worry.”

There were no stories three months later.

Discovering that underneath my father’s superman cape lived an ordinary human broke me. Forgiveness mended me.

 

Broken pieces actin’ like we ain’t cracked
But we all messed up and can’t no one escape that
… Broken hearts inside of a broken soul
… And we all need grace in the face of each other

– Broken, LeCrae feat. Kari Jobe

 

Broken, is an amalgamation of conversations I had with people who were willing to tell me their stories but reluctant to write for this series.
©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 livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.