“A Life like Mine” by Gideon Ogbonna

(A forest is a place of scattered beauties).

I am sitting in the hospital and I think of confusion. When I think of confusion, I think of a forest in its green and dark hues, with brittle vines twisting around rigid stems, with squirrels running up and down these stems, with tall trees overshadowing shrubs and grasses, with running water slicing through the grasses. So when I think of confusion, I think of it. And I think of myself.

A confusion that started in my final year in pharmacy school. Did it actually start then, or did I finally accept the truth? The truth being I was not ready to be a pharmacist. During my final days in pharmacy school, I spent more time on photography; encapsulating nature’s beauties in shutters of light of different colours. But this truth haunted me because of my father.

My Father:
(An insecure man is a strict man).

So daddy was strict. He wasn’t always that way. It is true that many Nigerian fathers were men who never wanted to spare the rod. Growing up, daddy was the soft parent. Mummy was the one that would say to him, you will spoil these children o, when we ran to him for protection from her smacks. Then he would smile revealing a crooked tooth that hung on his upper jaw. A smile we hardly saw after mummy died.

When she died, dad considered himself a failure. For him, a failure was one that would watch his wife die at childbirth. A failure was one that could not save his wife because he had no money for her to deliver safely. So he became strict, especially toward me. I was his first born. When it was time to go to the university, he decided I must study pharmacy. A brilliant boy like you should be a pharmacist. At least money will not be your problem. You will not watch your loved ones die because of sickness or hunger, he said to me. And I studied this pharmacy for him.

So when I arrived at the truth that I could not become a pharmacist, I thought of him and felt melancholic. In those melancholic days, I would climb a hill which overlooked the university. The large buildings shrunk into tiny, painted shapes. Apart from the brown grasses, which the breeze brushed with light strokes, the hill was made up of unfinished buildings painted with graffiti and stones scattered like chocolate balls that had fallen out of a bag opened with too much force. It was in one of those buildings I saw a girl praying. Her name was Oluoma.

(When a man is confused, sometimes it is hard to pray. So he finds someone to pray for him).

Oluoma was that someone for me. Our friendship started on the hill but blossomed out of it. Oluoma had the kind of eyes that sparkled; at night, they collected light from the moon in small slices and sparkled even more. We met every night under the staircase of the university’s bookshop. Even on rainy nights, we met because our love was warmth. We would sit on a desk and talk about things: our favourite things, the things that frighten us. And when she spoke to me, her voice was soft with hope. Then I would tease and call her the angel I met on the hill. To this, she would laugh and slap my shoulder. She made me, for a while, forget about pharmacy and photography and my father. I loved her. And if love was money, I spent all on her.  On some nights, I would be overwhelmed with emotions and I’d lean to kiss her, but she would wince and adjust her head wrap to cover her ears (as if her exposed ears were what tempted me), and say to me: Baby, kissing is wrong.

But love is a finite thing. It dies. So when she started avoiding me; when she hardly took my calls; when she started saying, my pastor does not think this relationship is healthy for my spiritual growth, my heart ached with loss. A loss that stared me in the face and mocked me with a guttural laugh the night I saw Oluoma kissing her pastor under our staircase.

For months, pain fused with my blood and coursed through my body. Sadness and anger pulsed through every vein. Yet those months my tears were stifled. I longed to cry because I felt tears—even as single drops—could cleanse me. But the rains never came—not even as single drops. And soon, the river changed course, I no longer felt sadness. Only anger. At everything. Especially religion.

(We find our own truths by questioning).

My uncle always told me that human actions should not come as a surprise because a human is capable of anything. And when I told him about Oluoma and her new lover, he said, pastor too na human being. I knew pastors were also human, but I’d always thought that being closer to God (as they made one believe) meant their lives were devoid of hypocrisy. But after the trauma with Oluoma, I learnt to see people as particles of flaws walking the earth; flaws shrouded by the veil of religion. I did away with all I had learnt as a Christian. Not that I became an atheist. No. I believed God existed. I believed all humans were pockets of a spiritual energy–God. But I peeled off Christian hypocrisy. That kind of hypocrisy that screamed, jungle justice, when a thief was burnt in Lagos, but became silent when a queer child was burnt. That hypocrisy that wooed a woman with, God told me you are my wife. That hypocrisy that told a sick woman to stop her medications because faith and fasting were more effective combinations. And in doing this, I felt light. But I didn’t feel free.

My heart was caught in a tug of war between what I had been taught as truth and what I believed was truth. And truth was something one could never be certain of (or so I thought). Like when there were rumours about scrapping out religious studies from primary and secondary schools, this uncertainty made me stammer when I said to my classmates on a road trip: the job of parents is to inculcate morals to the child. A child should be allowed to discover spirituality and religion on their own.

The tyres of the vehicle swished smoothly on the road as my amused classmates beheld me in silence. That would only leave us in a world where anything goes. Religion, especially Christianity, has checkmated this, a boy with creases at his nape said, breaking the silence.

But we already live in that world. A world where anything goes as long as it is done in the name of God, I said.

But Nonso, I’m surprised you are saying all these. I thought you were a Christian, the boy said again. I smiled at him because at that point, I couldn’t tell what I was anymore—a Christian or a freethinker. But when Nancy, a girl I met a month later, asked if I was a Christian, I told her no.

(When a girl loves, she gives anything. Everything).

A troubled, lonely heart would make you search for strength in places you never thought of. Nancy was not my kind my girl. My kind of girl wouldn’t have dark skin like coffee, she wouldn’t be short like me. My kind of girl would wear weaves and braids with elegance; not short hair permed at the sides. Nancy was not my kind of girl, but I still found strength in her (for a while).

We would lie on my bed where I would tell her about how the thoughts of my father mingled with my lack of clarity of faith. She would listen as she picked the strands of hair on my jaw and tell me that time had a way of making things perfect. Then she would envelop my lips with hers, warm and soft as cheese, before letting me find relief between her thighs. The first time I found this relief, blood trickled. She looked at me as if her eyes were searching for something in mine and said, I did it for you. Wordless, I cuddled her and stroked her shoulders until the thoughts of her love for me drifted me to sleep.

But loving her was something I couldn’t force. With my heart battling betrayal and trust, loving her in the way she loved me left an unsettling feeling in my stomach. So one afternoon, I sent her a text: If love was money, I spent it all on Oluoma. I’m sorry I cannot love you in the sweet way you deserve. And I never heard from her again.

(A forest is a place of scattered beauties).

So I am sitting in the hospital and I think of confusion. When I think of confusion, I think of a forest in its green and dark hues, with brittle vines twisting around rigid stems, with squirrels running up and down these stems, with tall trees overshadowing shrubs and grasses, with running water slicing through the grasses. So when I think of confusion, I think of it. And I think of myself.

She said time had a way of making things perfect. But I think either she lied or time failed. Because a life like mine is a mosaic of lost scattered beauties, insecure men, and unfinished buildings.

Gideon Ogbonna is an aspiring writer from Nigeria who alternates between being a pharmacist and writing stories. His life is a tug of war between his Pharmacist’s Oath and his pen.

Twitter: @gideonogbonnac

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