Everything Became a Drowning Dream
“The body is a blade that sharpens by cutting.” – Ocean Vuong
Grief is the only thing that can break one into fragments.
I recall being called different, queer, boring, and other things, which made me feel like a forbidden fruit, like a bitter leaf in one’s mouth. At that moment, I thought about a lot of things that I knew I couldn’t do. My thoughts and my brain worked in opposition that I didn’t know which to prevail. At times, words can bend one like birches crooking in winter. I thought of becoming rugged, hair tinted, tattoos on both arms, hanging out with unruly girls, but this thought always hit me hard, like a blow in the face. It wouldn’t change anything. I lived my life on my own terms but started getting piqued by my personality: introverted. I let my mind dance to the rhythm of words.
Apart from my personality, I bottled up a lot of pain, which felt like salt on a wound. I let pain eat me up from within.
This penetrating pain started when I lost my father to death. I was a 15-year-old when I lost him. I cried till there was nothing left to shed; my eyes became arid, like harmattan. My father’s body was wrapped in a white cloth; I didn’t even get the chance to see his face for the last time. I recall that before he left for work that day, we had talked about when my first story would be published, but everything became a drowning dream. I had a lovely diary that served as my best friend at that time because I couldn’t tell anyone how I felt. If the diary had a title, it would be Book of Pangs. Everything I went through was written in that diary.
At that age, I got depressed but everyone was oblivious. I think I hid it well. At that time, my heart knew no joy; it ached to see happiness all around. My dad’s death rendered me feeble and made my heart house grief. I shared a lot with my dad: my aspiration to become a writer, to travel abroad, to win many contests. My dad was magnanimous, hearty, loving, jovial, et cetera. He had very good qualities as a man. He was very handsome, light-skinned, and of average height. He had a little dimple and a smile that could make a baby laugh.
I recall that I was at home when my mum got a call regarding my dad; I was the only one at home with her because I had finished my Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE). She was fidgeting and couldn’t think straight. Before she left for the hospital, she told me that my dad had been rushed to the hospital from his workplace. My heart fell and broke into crumbs. His words began flowing into my mind like a river. “No, nothing will happen to you, dad,” I said. When I heard the Adhan, I briskly performed my ablution and observed solat. I awaited my mum, but she arrived late in the night with our Imam and some of my dad’s colleagues. She told us that our dad had passed away, her eyes like the Red Sea. I grinned at first, then profuse tears rushed down from my eyes. Even the lastborn child, who was mostly with our dad whenever he didn’t go to work, cried. The boy didn’t seem to understand, but he knew what had happened.
Dad would always say: “I believe in you. Don’t worry, I’m always here for you. You can tell me anything.” Not knowing that his stay with us would one day expire. Every night after his death, sleep betrayed me. I know how it easily creeped to my eyes without me begging it to come. I lived with my pains and aches.
In one of Ocean Vuong’s poems, he said: “A mother’s love neglects pride the way fire neglects the cries of what it burns.” For my mum, I pretended to be happy because she cherished my siblings and me, and did everything she could to make us happy. After my father’s demise, at times she pretended to be happy because she didn’t want us to worry. She didn’t want us to feel lonely without our father.
My sadness was immeasurable. My body tasted pain, my mind began to despise every grief that stained my heart. I burnt my diary, my best friend. My heart felt like a house on fire. I cried, not a little but superfluously. I never knew pain until I lost my father, an invaluable father. One who was a friend to discipline and humility, a foe to promiscuity and alcohol, a kind human. I felt really bad for my mother. Every night, I sat beside the window, wondering what was going on in my mother’s mind. My mother’s feigned happiness didn’t make me happy. I recall when my seven-year-old brother started asking after Dad. It wasn’t funny. My sisters and I had to calm him down with a lie that Dad had travelled. This broke Mum’s heart, and she wept again. We had to console her. I must say that I wept bitterly that night but not in anyone’s presence.
I recall being the most envied student in secondary school. At first, I never understood why I was envied. What I noticed was, some students secluded themselves from me. I started hearing diverse things about me that weren’t pleasant. The feeling of being excluded or unwanted is draining and insufferable. Some students said I acted as though I were from a rich background while some called me a low life, queer, boring, hideous. One was daring enough to accost me; I was bewildered. She asked me to stop feigning innocence. She kept on talking while I stood there perplexed with my mouth slightly open. When I finally said something, the words that came out were like a broken language on an infant’s tongue. I would ask myself if it was a crime to be oneself because I knew I was always being myself. I had never tried to emulate anyone. One of my friends told me to ignore them. “They are jealous of you, don’t feel bad.”
One day, when the weather was gloomy and rain poured hard on our rooftop, I began thinking about everything, and tears streamed from my eyes. A lot that happened in secondary school also contributed to my pangs, so I had only a few friends who at first had wrong impressions about me but then realised that they were wrong. People forget that some of the words they utter stay in one’s heart forever.
After secondary school, I started contemplating on what handiwork I could learn. I had a passion for fashion design. I had wanted to learn it when I finished my Basic Education Certificate Examination but then I lost someone worth more than gold. I found myself working as a typist. The remuneration wasn’t handsome but it was better than staying at home. One blazing afternoon, when there were no customers to attend to, I felt a stabbing pain. It was a familiar pain that I had been having before I started working as a typist but I couldn’t say anything to my mum or siblings because of the situation. The pain persisted for over six months. One day, my elder sister noticed my uncanny behaviour. She asked about it but I tried to evade her questions. I told her that I was fine. I never knew that silence was a slow poison. The pain was stabbing, piercing, and riveting. Anyone around would know that something was wrong. I was taken to the hospital after a while and I got better.
God always makes a way when everything seems to be uncomfortable and tough. After three years of staying at home, hoping that I would be offered admission into the university, God finally answered my prayers.
Happiness is a good friend to one. Upon admission, my mum started glowing like the yellow eye of the sun. My siblings were exhilarated, and I was elated too.
For a long while, I hadn’t seen happiness on my mother’s face. She barely spoke, she partly ate. We tried to make her do things that would make her feel happy but she feigned happiness. She couldn’t do anything. We tried to make her talk often because her silence carried a lot of messages that were very conspicuous. Her friends came over to chit-chat and cheer her up during the weekend. They tried to make her laugh but she didn’t even smile. Losing a loved one is insufferable, particularly a spouse.
My elder sister started working in order to support our mother. She knew how to hide her hurt and would act like she was fine but we all knew she wasn’t. I was not a talking type but when with mum, I talked to her. We played ludo together to distract her thoughts. Every weekend, we prepared delicious meals for mom because she barely ate. At times, she would say, “Where’s your dad? Call him and tell him that the food is ready.” When we were about to remind her that he passed away, she’d say, “Oh! I forgot.” Then she’d cover her face with her palms and start sobbing. My younger brother would start crying as well, which made my younger sister run towards him, envelop him in a warm hug and fondle his back. My elder sister and I would then walk briskly towards mum and console her. She would sniff and use her wrapper to clean her face, then sigh and start eating.
With time, we all got used to dad’s absence and realised that it wasn’t a dream. Still, his memory lingered in our hearts.
I have been through a lot of things I never envisioned would happen to me. At some point in my life, I had to let go of some friendships because they weren’t worth it. I did that without regrets. It is better to be alone than to have friends that cannot impact one’s life positively. My father taught me to live with tranquillity irrespective of the situation; he taught me to walk with people that would impact my life positively. He once said, “People will always find a way to infuriate one. They will always look for a place to dispose of their anger.” He asked me to evade such persons and also, “See and pretend that you didn’t see their actions.” But it is not easy to always tolerate people when they inadvertently provoke one. I do overlook most things because not overlooking means that one is ready to face the consequences of an argument. There’s never a good outcome from an irrational argument; rather, it leads to a fight. One of the things I love about my dad was that he never argued with an unreasonable person.
One of the things I admire my dad for is that he loved reading books and telling me and my siblings stories. He did that whenever he was less busy or during the weekend. This made me love stories. I started writing as a child. At age 13, to some extent, I was able to write good sentences. However, I only wrote things that came to mind at that time. The first story I wrote was ‘Nanny and Ibrahim with the Anaconda’. It sounds funny but I showed it to my dad. Dad read it and smiled. He patted my shoulder and said to keep it up. At age 14, I wrote ‘Teenage Marriage’, which was one of the longest short stories I wrote then. I always showed my stories to my dad and he would read them and offer corrections. It was then that my dad promised to publish one of my stories only for death to snatch him from me in the subsequent year. I know the feeling of losing someone, how scorching and piercing it is. Not just a random person but someone who was willing to support my dreams, to help me get to the top, and to make sure I keep doing well in my endeavours.
I have been in hiding for a long time, killing my talents with timidity and taciturnity. With the help of friends and other people, I’m gradually coming out of my shell.
Alimot Salami (she/her) is an emerging Nigerian writer, photographer, digital artist, and essayist. She currently studies English Language at Lagos State University, Nigeria. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Bluemarble Review, The Drinking Gourd Magazine, Typehouse Literary Magazine, IbadanArt, Native Skin Magazine, Olney Magazine, Hey Young Writer, Icefloe Press, Brittle Paper, Arts Lounge, Terror House Magazine, Nantygreens, Brigitte Poirson Poetry Contest August/September, Kalahari Review, Pawners Paper, Nymphs, Nnoko Stories Magazine, The Hearth Magazine, Naija Readers’ Buffet and elsewhere.
*Image by Jr Korpa on Unsplash