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In a land not so far away, there lived a woman, sturdy of form and lively of countenance. She lived in a rut, and she was always restless, anxious to see what lay ahead. After years of scraping and saving the meagre fruits of her labour, she finally acquired enough funds to barter for a road map and a hammock which doubled as a wrap for her thimble and five magic beans.

And so, our heroine ventured into the land of the Masters. In this foreign land where custard creams grew like mushrooms by the roadside, our heroine was set various increasingly difficult tasks by the Meisters at the training grounds of Masterdom. Renowned equally for her resilience and laziness, she managed to slide just under the set deadlines and somehow completed her extensive training with a First. The Meisters murmured in shocked tones among themselves that, though our heroine demonstrated remarkable sloth-like characteristics, her performance was nothing short of distinct. Our heroine, in equally shocked tones, cried out thanks to her Maker while lying prostrate in her little shoebox. She became jaunty of step and buoyant of heart, blissfully unaware of the wicked stepmother lurking in the shadows.

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I started the year, as one is wont to do, with many expectations. You’d think I’d be familiar with disappointment by now and thus learn to firmly sit on my expectations whenever they threaten to rise, but I’m Nigerian and therefore prone to intense amnesia and unfounded optimism. Also, expectations are very slippery, helium-filled things. They tend to rise despite one’s best efforts.

Late in 2014, I started my journey on the path of academia. I mean, it’s only right. I’m bespectacled, full of random, useless facts and I have many gathered skirts. Of course I’m meant to be a teacher. (Sorry. My inner narcissist frolics more often than not these days.)

2015 was the year my life was finally supposed to begin. I had taken the necessary steps. The formula seemed to be working; the first half of my year was so charmed and full of purpose and promise. I had a plan. I knew where I was, where I was headed. And let me tell you, that felt so good. I was finding an avenue to channel all the bleeding-heart, idealistic feelings that have plagued me since young adulthood. I had my family, I had my friends (the resilient few who stuck with me through thin and thin – let’s face it, I had little or no ‘thick’ for anyone this year), and I had my health. I was making exponential leaps in the snakes-and-ladders game that is self-actualization.

And then, with the same dizzying force as all the excitement, everything stopped. Engine turned off. Driver got out and wandered into the bush. Bird-chirping by day, crickets by night. Radio silence stretched into chronic muteness. Life as I knew it just seemed to grind to a stubborn halt. The second half of the year was as anticlimactic as tasting Panadol at the end of a promising milkshake. Here I was, with all this drive, all these tools, and nowhere to go.

Failure to launch.

I’d never been unemployed in my life. Things like “I’ve been looking for a job for four years” happened to other people, not me. So when I found myself at these loose ends, end so loose that they’re basically fringe, I’m ashamed to say that I fell apart. Nothing seemed to be coming together. Not my job-hunt, not my plans to continue with school. I couldn’t even get an unpaid internship. I wrote enough cover letters to atone for sins in Purgatory. I sat up all night, working through lists of relevant organizations and positions. Each rejection was like another strip torn off the skin of my confidence.

You see, this is the one area in life where I’ve always had absolute faith in myself. I’ve never held much stock by my looks, I’m generally not the most likeable of people, and I don’t have any special innate talents. The only thing about myself I’ve ever been confident about is the belief that my professional life was always well within my grip, mine to steer and manage.

I can’t even say when the depression set in. Maybe it was at the 25th “We regret to inform you” email, but I couldn’t tell you. I suppose I only had myself to blame; I may have dreamed too big, expected too much. I may have forgotten for a minute that incredible things always seem to belong in other people’s testimonies. I may have forgotten that I am quite ordinary, that I am the rule, never the exception. I may have forgotten that I’m an ‘almost’, always so close, close enough to press my nose against the window. Always on the outside, looking in.

Living life gets hard to do.

I papered over the cracks with laughter, because, at the end of the day, it IS me. There will always be laughter. I loved my family, laughed with them. I laughed with friends. I watched so much internet telly, I became just like Abed in Community. I shopped like a madwoman, and read romance novels round the clock. I wrote essays and got excited reading the dullest research papers. I learned about myself, who I am, and came to terms with the parts of me that I dislike. I had many normal days, but I had many lonely, sleepless nights. I gained so much weight because, any excuse to eat recklessly. I tried to count my blessings but the fog of depression and the sense of failure numbed my fingers. Plus, Maths has never been my strong point, anyway.

I realized that there’s no big finish this year. No culmination. There’s no amazingness, just ordinariness. I have no prospects- I’ve spent all my money getting this education, I’ve no job to replenish my pockets, no career leads of note, nothing. Plus, I’ve run out of cheeky answers to “So, what are your plans?” from people who ask that wrenching question with so much obvious glee, oblivious to the stabbing panic in my chest and my wild eyes searching for the nearest escape route. I DON’T KNOW WHAT MY PLANS ARE. LEAVE ME ALONE.

By the end of the year, I felt clubbed by life.

What kind of a day has it been?

It’s my birthday today. How can I be 26 when I still feel like a child, when I still don’t know how much chocolate is “bad for you”, when I still gravitate towards pinafore dresses, when I’m still unable to get my ear pierced again because needles are sharp, dangerous objects which can HURT you?

But, there are perks to being childlike. Perks like resilience, optimism, buoyancy. I don’t know how I’ll feel on 31/12/16, but today, I’ve forgotten that incredible things always elude me. I’ve forgotten that I’m the rule, that I’m an ‘almost’. I’m dreaming big, I’m expecting everything. The dream life, the dream love, the dream library. No matter what, I’m never done. I know that everything becomes beautiful whenever God ‘ruins’ my life. I know that He steers me, even when I’m kicking and screaming to go another way. So, today, I’m getting with His program. Send me, etc. I’ll be back next year with the best catch-up story of all time- God willing, because, Man proposes, etc. (Ooh, potential pun. Don’t go there.)

Dood, Lum, Ada, Chisom, Lala, Okaima and Nene. Thank you guys for holding my hand.

Here’s to the greatest year- to making a difference, to being a kinder person, to loving with reckless abandon. Happy New Year, kids.

And, oh, hi Mom.

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Happy New year and happy birthday Queen Amanda from all of us at Stories!

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