I received the call while walking out of the FHC at Ikoyi. The day was oppressively hot and the stench of the sea hung thick in the air. It was that call that punctured the dam. Things had happened back to back in the past weeks/months in such quick succession and somehow, I had held it together. I was surprised at how much I was able to keep it down and just function. But that call was it. In the scheme of larger things, it was a small event, but I just lost it and I started walking. In a daze. I was past Falomo and headed in the general direction of CMS when my phone rang again and I picked by rote. It was B: “I heard your voice yesterday and you seem to be under a lot of pressure, what’s up?”
I don’t know, but I felt…seen. Heck, for the first time in 2019, I actually felt anything; the unforgiving malice of the sun, the bone grating tiredness in my legs and all over my body, the sweat in my shirt, the suffocating stench of car exhaust fumes, the din of car horns, the racket of insults, or was it surprise? I was still wearing my court gown and my wig was in my hands. I was standing in the middle of Awolowo road and cars were screeching to a halt all around, for me.
See, 2019 did things to me that I couldn’t explain. I stopped even trying to make sense. I stopped trying to do a lot of things.
It felt really like the year was out to kill me.
In January 2019, I lived with my 80-year-old grandmother. Part of the story was that she lived in Benin city, which was closer to Lagos than Port Harcourt. And thus, it was easier for me to attend job interviews in Lagos.
The other (more important) part of the story was that I was ashamed and really tired. I just graduated school at 29. The first son of 7, responsibilities were everywhere and I was really exhausted. My family likes to think we are middle class but we are really poor. My father lost his job at an oil major when I was about 6 and he, somehow, never recovered. He just snapped and stopped trying, so my mom and I sort of had to step up and provide. We hawked stuff and did odd jobs just to keep afloat. I was determined to go to university and see my brothers go as well. I did everything while in school. From writing CVs and term papers to housecleaning to selling any and everything and somehow, I saw myself through school and law school. The dream was to work in consulting. I have the smarts and it’s sort of my thing but I’m 28. Every job description has “not more than 25” on it. So, a law firm it has to be.
I had sent out over 53 applications (I had a spreadsheet) lol. And it was silence after silence. An interview there, an examination there. Law firms are something. I remember taking 4 interview tests for one job at a law firm in Ikoyi that offered to pay me 20k lmao. But we move.
I eventually got a Job – my uncle made a call. Apparently, a first class/2:1 wasn’t enough. I needed some nepotism as well.
The pay was about 50k, so I moved to Lagos around March to start at the job. It was Monday to Saturday of just slaving away and it took me some time to get used to but I did. The flip side was that my emotional bandwidth was all but shot. I was perpetually exhausted and just felt nothing generally. I slid into the worst depression. My life just felt like it was on autopilot. I was not really worried about the depression that much, what mattered to me was that I had some cash to send home. That my mom had slightly less work to do. The depression of an unfulfilling rut of a job was much better than being unemployed. I just saved everything I could and sent home. I felt like an automaton. Life was not perfect but it was livable.
The first wrinkle came when I was called that my closest uncle had cancer. This man was 55 and in perfect health, and in 4 months, he deteriorated so fast and went through such pain that I was just relieved when he died in June.
My Uncle was someone that signalled hope for me. On more than one occasion, he was the one I came to meet when things were not really working out, and he always was able to do something. He was not rich or anything but he was able to reach ahead of me. He had that kind of wisdom that came with age. And had a network, that if they were not personally rich, they knew people. He just had goodwill and was in many ways, a father.
His death left me listless and shocked. How was I to cope?
Then, my younger brother was charged for a crime. He was taken exactly one month from the funeral. This was my closest sibling – he was literally my son and just turned 18 when he was accused of armed robbery and charged. It was all a misunderstanding and all the time I shuttled from Lagos to PH, I just kept asking “did you do it?” I wouldn’t have minded if he said he did it. I like to know what I’m up against.
He didn’t do it. He was a victim a very elaborate setup. The evidence appeared in all honesty like he was guilty. But he was not.
My brother was arraigned but not before they had gotten a police report to search the house we lived in and our house in the village. They dragged him, handcuffed past our street, past our neighbours, into our flat and they searched. They took him, handcuffed to the village house, in the full glare of everyone that cared to look and they searched.
That stuff took an emotional toll on me in ways I didn’t know was possible. There was nobody really to meet if things really went sour. I couldn’t trust the justice system to save him. I did not have money, not enough money to do major bribing. I just prayed and paced a lot. I woke up on many nights unable to sleep, worried about what would happen if I was not able to get my brother out of prison. I borrowed so much money that I actually lost track; for bribing policemen to let us feed him and to let me speak to him over the phone, for travelling between Lagos and Port Harcourt every week.
I just did what needed to be done. I was drained consistently and I just spoke in monosyllables and tweeted like that. Words accompanied only by just long sighs and meaningful silences.
I had to, in the midst of all this drama, attempt to calm my mom and ensure that she took her hypertension meds and I had to call my grandma and sound really cheery. Nobody had the mind to tell her that her son had died. In the midst of all these, I just moved. I don’t know how but I just functioned.
It really could not get worse than that, yeah? Well, how wrong I was.
November 2019, while I was doing a random health check, the doctor called me into his office and started randomly grilling me about my sexual behaviour. He interspersed the questions with “would you be surprised if your tests came out positive?”, “would it be unfair to say that you really deserved whatever is in these results?” and his questions got increasingly invasive till I just let him fill up the gaps with assumptions. I had practically been celibate for quite a minute and I didn’t really think very seriously of his questions till he blurted out (in the most condescending tone I have heard in a while might I add), “well, your test says you are HIV positive, take these papers, go to the pharmacy, we are getting you on treatment immediately…”
I took a selfie. I wanted to remember that exact moment. I was in a daze and everything just happened slowly. It felt like I was hearing a siren in my head. I collected the drugs from the pharmacist, came down the stairs… 19 steps, took 21 steps to the gate, took an uber to Coldstone, bought a large bucket of ice cream, took an uber home.
I did not attempt to process the feelings immediately. I just remember that I prayed quietly to die. I was tired. I was scooped out on the inside. And I felt immensely stupid, and I consciously had to stop myself from making a list of my previous partners and asking them if they were the one. How exactly do you phrase the question?
I went to work the next day. I just generally functioned, just moved, did what had to be done and just got out of everyone’s way. The anxiety attacks became worse. I was practically not sleeping but I just moved like clockwork.
I listened to my younger siblings complain about school and girlfriends, calmed their fears about my incarcerated brother, lied to my grandmother that I was kicking ass in Lagos, harangued my mother about her pills, just went through the motions but more than anything, I really wanted to die.
I remember laying down a lot on the floor of the office toilet waiting for an anxiety attack to pass. I remember looking for whom to speak to, scrolling through the contacts on my phone and realizing that I was confidant and counsellor for a lot of persons, but I had no such people to speak to. I would call my grandmother, but how exactly do you begin to say something like this?
Lol. I remember calling people frantically and asking them “does God heal?” and listening to them stutter through the answer.
Preaching slaps different when there is a practical problem facing you. I prayed a lot, then stopped praying and I doubt I’d even pray again for a while. I’m just tired man. I’m exhausted.
It was in the midst of this that I got the call. My grandmother had a stroke and was in a coma. Things were not looking good.
I don’t know man, but I just snapped. I honestly don’t remember what happened between Oyinkan Abayomi and Awolowo road and I don’t think it would have mattered if B didn’t call me.
The thing with pain sha is that it isolates you and shuts you up. You want to tell your neighbour that you are suffering, but such conversations are increasingly difficult in a “positive vibes only” world. Depression is boring. Real, difficult, life experience is boring. It really is not the easiest topic to raise. And people are busy. Life is also happening to them. So, it can be better to perform happiness and normalcy till you cannot.
In this time, I recognized that the best gift you can get is the companionship of people. Your people.
“Everybody wanders till they find their tribe”
The call with B lasted for an hour plus. I just told him everything, and thank God he didn’t argue. I was too knackered to argue about anything. I spilled it all. Somewhere in the telling, the tears came. But I soldiered through it. I left nothing out. And he just listened. The weight was still there. But it was probably lighter.
People with whom you do not have to perform. People that will see you.
My grandmother died on the 20th of December. We were there when she died. And I learnt that there was such a thing as a beautiful death. And I want it.
My new doctor is really kind and more patient. “Do not let this thing dictate how you live”, she scolds over the phone. She calls me by my first name. and does not do that annoying oversabi thing doctors like to do. I think doctors are really overworked, and sometimes some of them forget that there are actual people behind the files, not just statistics.
I’m learning to take one day at a time. I still get overwhelmed by such darkness sometimes. It would be nice to live but I’m afraid to hope for anything really.
In the new year, I want to learn to be genuinely kind, maybe to be nicer as well. Kindness literally saved my life this year. I intend to love people and help them love themselves. I intend to live fully to the farthest extents of vulnerability, to be messy, to have dry, painful conversations. And oh, I need money. I just want to be able to turn up for my people and to provide.
In the end, it’s the people that really matter.
You’re one of the reasons we run this blog. This story, with all the weight you had to unburden, is why we need a place to breathe. I’m relieved you found your tribe, your friend who heard the real you. That is a plus to your family, despite all you lost this year. God bless you for sharing and I pray you can be family to others too.