I’m trying to gather my thoughts, just enough so I can write this. It’s hard; I’m thinking a thousand things. Where to start, what to tell, what to leave out? It’s all so precious.
I’d applied twice before. Each time, I knew, immediately I sent off the mail, I knew I wasn’t going to get in. But this year…
June 9, 20:40
The email comes, but I don’t see it until four, five hours later. It’s a day early, so my initial reaction is disbelief, then wariness. Is someone pranking me? (But it’s signed with her name!) Why would anyone prank me like this? Of course I screenshot it and send it to all my friends, but it isn’t until the list comes out and I see my name on it -number three- that I fully believe it.
The next days are a blur. I spend my days in a TV-induced semi stupor, and my nights on the internet, doing intense ‘research’. I read possibly every single review on the workshop ever written, I google the words ‘farafina’, ‘chimamanda’, ‘workshop’ constantly, I look at pictures, I read tweets, I look for videos (there are very few to be found). I am coming apart at the seams. I google all the names on the list (I tell myself over and over, it’s not weird). Finally, I break down and text a friend: is it weird?
It rains heavily, all morning. I am too nervous to eat, my throat is closing up, I speak as little as possible. ‘Make friends o!’ my mother yells as the taxi pulls away. I expected traffic, but there’s none. Still, the drive is long, and I fall asleep. My sister is in the backseat, chattering nonstop on the phone. She prods me awake when we get to the bridge and we stare up at it through the car windows. It’s formidable during the day, utterly beautiful at night. The hotel is quiet. A cold lobby, a loud television and a smiling receptionist meet us when we enter. I get my room key, no fuss (for some reason, I expected a long drawn out argument at the front desk, possibly some tears and my having to call Okey). After unpacking my things, fiddling with everything in the room and taking pictures, my sister leaves, and I realize how hungry I am. I text a few friends and their replies are eerily similar: ‘go and find something to eat now’, ‘go downstairs, I’m sure you’ll get something’ et cetera. Ignore, ignore. I fall asleep feeling a multitude of things, but mostly, hungry.
First, the Queen herself: we go round the room and introduce ourselves, and some of the tension in the room dissipates. ‘This is a safe space’, she tells us, over and over. We play games, we listen to a passionate speech, we write dialogue. Nneoma beside me keeps me from freezing with fear; I rub my back mentally, I tell myself: it’s okay, I know someone. I’m not alone. About the Queen: what can I say that hasn’t been said already?
She’s brilliant and beautiful and goofy, her skin glows, she says ‘fuck’ with a fierce grace, she laughs easily and says ‘that’s fantastic!’ a lot. We’re all a little -a lot- in love with her.
Then Aslak, who Funmi insists on calling Azlac (I call him Aslak the beautiful). Aslak with his Viking hair and crooked handwriting and his crooked English.
Aslak tells us about Norway, about how he met the Queen. He tells us other invaluable, precious things: go where it hurts, because there it matters; normal is good enough; you are never interesting. Aslak tells us to fuck the perfect beginning and just START. Then, The Thing. Before it, I can’t lie, I was scared. I was texting friends, we aren’t bonding, I’m worried. Why aren’t we bonding? Sure, everyone’s nice but the room is still too tense, I don’t know. But then The Thing happens and the ice shatters and I can release my laughter. I think that after it, we all breathe a little easier.
INTENSE. I barely sleep. Aslak the Beautiful leaves for Norway, taking his Viking hair with him and we’re all sad, but only for a moment. Because: enter Binyavanga. Binya with his tiny strip of blue hair and his brash, bold honesty. Binya unknowingly settles an argument between Ama and I. Binya brings with him: Wangechi Mutu and a lot of sex, more stories about the Queen, and the blinding zeal in everyone to impress. It is as if he’s the sun, and we’re all plants, reaching for him.
In this new safe space, we begin to learn new, delicate things about each other, and these things bind us. We are a family now. After class we are all exhausted, but we take food-hunting walks, to Animal Farm, and KFC and Chicken Republic. We talk, constantly, about everything. We establish ourselves: Funmi is passionate and funny and determined to make herself heard. Naza-Girl is the Snapchat queen with the beautiful smile. Aoiri is our class father, he is stubborn and sparks at least 95% of our in-class debates. Kunle is on something, he’s the fucking Energizer Bunny. Nnamdi is the Kuku Man. Naza-Boy, aka Nwa Nsukka is funny and astonishes me with how insightful his stories are. Umar, official class captain, is lofty (and so brilliant, it hurts), everyone agrees. Aishat, with her big beautiful eyes and big, beautiful words is the unofficial class captain. Lesley, cool and hip, ceaselessly schools Aoiri (and pretty much everyone) and takes no bullshit. Grace, quiet, kind, beautiful, hops on the Snapchat train with Naza-Girl real quick. Fatima’s voice and her stories soothe me in a way I don’t entirely understand (but can’t help but love). Chika, we realize early on, is aaalll about the monayy. Miracle is loud and funny and is instantly my arch nemesis.
Akintunde is a gentleman, kind and courteous, you know, despite the issues. Chioma is so gracious and all she wants is to wear high heels and cook with stove, goddamit. Nneoma is my girl, ever: beautiful, intensely kind, seriously shady as hell, still able to move the rock in my chest with her words. Muna’s stories are feather soft, infinitely delicate, and I take to him immediately, even though he says WOW at everything (even things entirely undeserving). Bimbo is the freckles man, the eternal selfie-ruiner, member of my harem and my bingo gang (don’t even ask). Chisom’s stories are beautifully loud, but she is quiet, overly so, and after we begin to talk I realize it’s just a front because she’s the shadiest, pettiest person on the planet, so of course I love her immediately and forever. Ife has read everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, and yet he refuses to admit that he’s the wokest person to walk the face of the earth.
And finally, Ama. Thief of my heart, with her soft voice and the way she tells me ‘you’re smiling that your smile again’ when she tries to take pictures of me, and her raw, un-hidden, beautiful stories. Ama and I grow so close, so quickly that some people (very wrongly) conclude that it must be ‘the Ghanaian thing’.
In my journal I write: is it too soon to love a group of people this much?
June 30 – July 2
The last days. The growing gloom in my chest is dispelled by Eghosa, the only person in the workshop funnier than me. Eghosa gives us gist and Red Bull and plenty assignments. We grumble but we do them, and we come to class and laugh at ourselves. Eghosa brings us down from all the pretty; he tells us the nitty gritty details of this literary life, no bullshit.
We hang out a lot more now after class, even though we’re so tired we can barely see straight. I spend nights curled up in Ama’s bed, watching Orange is The New Black and trying desperately not to wonder what the after will bring. There’s more laughter, more gist, charades, more pictures. Everyone is storing up memories.
But despite my wishing and praying and crying, Friday shows up, bittersweet. We are loud and noisy on the bus to Oriental, quiet on the way back. We return to the hotel, move to the conference room and eat, and gist and shade the hell out of the ‘outsiders’. We give Okey a thank-you card and he has the sweetest reaction ever. We are all fucking exhausted, but no one wants to go to bed. We’re eating cake and gisting with the Queen and having the time of our lives. But you can only hold nature off for so long. We go to bed in the early hours of the morning. I cry into my pillow till I fall asleep. The goodbyes are too early for me on Saturday morning, so I miss all but a few: Ife, Nneoma, Aishat, Muna. Then Ama, late in the evening.