There’s something about wounds that do not leave scars, something about pain that refuses to be made evident, about glass that chips and cracks but does not fall apart. The seemingly almost perfect story that belongs to so many it’s no longer just one story, the story that spans across cultures, individuals, noticeable in phrases like “I’m fine” (muttered on the way from visiting a sick mother). The single story of being okay, a story that truly does not belong to anyone but lives on all our lips. Cracked, refusing us the tremors of an absolute breakdown.
There isn’t much about you that you like to share, you could have had a good story, we all know there’s no such thing as a perfect story. You had comfort, not the kind you ran mad from and poured out of the space between your fingers, but you had enough, you had enough to feel it rip through you when it went all away.
It happened the way most things in life do, the new and shiny turning into the ordinary, flames waning, rain quieting, there are no accurate metaphors for describing how chaos slips in, in every case it’s different. The thing about everyday human stories is that they do not quite reach the extraordinary yet they can never be perfectly duplicated, your story is something like that. Born of a man and woman that were reaching for something else, nights when your father pressed into your mother and all he could think about was a woman he had met years ago and could still recall. He tried to find her between the legs of others and when he finally gave up, settled for closing his eyes right before an orgasm. Your mother who settled for duty like her mother and your great grandmother, the receiver of her duty always shifting, from siblings to mother, settling on daughter for many years. She was reaching for safety, “I do this for you” steadily on her lips.
The cracks started as far back as you can remember, at least you think so now, but you know how it is with the past, we obsess over it and give every meaningless turn significance. Now your memory is populated with suspicious looking evidence. The time you stood at the top of the stairs and heard screaming downstairs, the times that duty and closing of eyes didn’t seem sufficient to hold the pieces together, the times you were away with your grandmother for weekends and could hear her praying in hushed tones, you established a pattern, that the women in your family were always quietly reaching for something, living on so much hope and compromise that they swelled from the insides. The only child, so you spent nights awake imagining what would spill out if their skins were pierced. The age of curiosity where you tried to find what was on all our insides, where you ripped teddy bears and pierced plastic dolls. Evidence you were always searching for something, perhaps the answer to why we always felt so empty.
As a teenager you learned the value of hate and malice and used it generously, screaming matches against your mother where you admitted to hating her and she corrected you that you hated yourself. Teenage years where you shaved your eyebrows in front of the mirrors you had always avoided, where you loved the boys who barely took notice. When you started to hate your father who had resumed his search like a day never passed, simply woke up one morning with the determination to find the woman that had eluded him, he must have seen her in a dream, maybe one where he had questions and she was the answer, and he woke up with only the questions, you can only speculate. He searched hard, in the rooms of strange women, in bars filled with liquor, through the darkness, till he could only make it home in the morning. He never took notice of all your hate, he didn’t consider it a reckonable enough force, there was obedience left and that was what was important.
Another thing about wounds that refuse to make themselves known is that you can never tell exactly where you’re hurting or how much. There was food, water and an education, even enough left over for the things that were not necessary for survival. To the goal of duty, much had been accomplished.
Through the university there was much to learn, there was a flight away from home, an hour of anxiety brewing in your belly to the unfamiliar rowdiness of Lagos, to crammed roads littered with yellow and black, hawkers with wares that stretched the imagination under an angry sun. Lagos felt like bearing witness to all the stories in traffic, it would all become familiar, the long rides, the cussing, the blistering heat.
You learned a lot from the university, like how to fill and empty your insides in an attempt to find the thing that had eluded you, that had eluded those before you. You learned to fill your insides with so much smoke it came pouring out through every hole, how to fill yourself with another body till sounds escaped your lips, with liquor till you were dancing on tables. There was also the emptying that was improved with each act, demanded a degree of precision, how much water to get in before a meal, the perfect time when it could get back out. The years were spent doing almost everything except what you were really meant to do, you got on well enough, met your dodgy first-year roommate, Ibukun who remained a constant for years after, fell in love with Segun in your first year, David, Wale and Dapo in your final year.
There’s a story you’re trying to tell through all this remembering, it’s something about how you ended in this present place, in a room in Wuse that feels like a million miles from home though it’s only a few kilometers. Far away because you can’t return even if you wanted to, far away because you’re still trying to find yourself and making a million mistakes, the story probably leans a lot on your father and his evidence you still have no access to. There’s always a backstory. Yours is about how hate grew and nothing ever completely healed, through meaningless “I love yous” uttered and prayers that never left your lips with sincerity. There always remained bile between father and daughter, punctuated by a clueless mother who had maintained peace for most of her life it was an instinct. You remember the small acts of rebellion that started with simple tasks.
A party your father insisted you attend, you disappearing in the morning and texting back
“you no longer tell me what to do” because it was the truth
Your father livid. Because it was the truth.
A malice because of this, more silence from the time you called him a lousy man whore and he slapped you hard across both cheeks and took out his belt and you slept over at Ibukun’s for 2 weeks. You always came back, to longer periods of malice for many other reasons, your father with the uneasy temperament of one who was never refused, you with all the foolishness and stubbornness of a young adult. You survived on your mother for long periods of time, your father attempting to snuff you out with hunger. Teach you to come back. Father and daughter soon learned to cultivate a relationship similar to a war zone with a promise of mines, each needing something, an offspring, some money, for society, for security.
The story you’re trying to tell does not end well, at least not yet, you’re still trying to figure out if you should have inherited more compromise, been more quiet, less aggressive, more forgiving. What you’ve learned being here is that a lot of people have survived more horrible bizarre stories, desperation got them here and among these women, Ekem who had desire cut out from between her legs at an early age, Lisa who never revealed her real name but made her way alone from Calabar at 15, battering sex for transport, Reena who sent back money to her mother and 3 sons, women escaping situations that stretched your imagination, among these women who earned less than you, because education is still levied in a sex transaction, among these women, you will always remain the privileged ungrateful brat who threw it all away.