My Blueberry Dreams
He now lives life as a point of duty: methodical, mechanical, rigidly executed and passively indulgent. He has kept his job, his girlfriend, a side chick, and his peers. He doesn’t feel anything more than a sense of social obligation towards any of them. Convention has convinced him that to live beneath expected social standards is to live in mediocrity. Mediocrity is, to Stanley Amoto, the only fate worse than living.
Every morning at 5.45am, his body lumbers out of sleep, involuntarily, and he spends the next 15 minutes turning defiantly in the sheets, a personal protest to the vestiges of his sweet night’s rest. When he finally pulls himself up, he shuffles to the bathroom and takes a bath. He dresses up and packs his bag: his laptop, his chargers, a pen, and a journal. He pulls a card of tramadol from his drawers and pops out a pill. He splits the single pill into four and downs a quarter before wrapping up the other fragments into a leaf cut out of a sticky note. This he buries in a pocket at the side of his bag. He will revisit it at various intervals while at work.
For most productive hours of Mondays to Fridays, he’s hunching over a computer at Lorwel & Singer: crafting, editing, and sorting through copies, developing PR strategies, and taking briefings from the HOD. He used to dream about this job, and when he got the mail he threw an intimate house party for himself and a few people he used to hang out with. That was a lifetime ago. There’s no happiness for him at this job anymore, just a latent resentment for corporate culture.
He spends most of his evenings smoking cigarettes with Olga, his Ukrainian neighbour who sells scented candles at the mall. But not Friday evenings. On Friday evenings, he hangs out with his friends, the ones he made on his ascension through the social ladder. They are young, stylish professionals. They are accountants and data analysts and lawyers and software engineers. They work at PwC, Cosgrove, KPMG, and Paystack. They visit Lakesyde and Cilantro and Honeydew, drink coffee and oddly-named cocktails, and eat croissants and sushi and tiger prawns. They are grateful for being smart and well-off enough to live above the degrading puddle of city hustlers waiting for their big breaks. It is in that elitist conclave that he builds enough motivation to retain a remote interest in his job – because God forbid he becomes one of the people his despicable friends speak condescendingly about.
Sometimes, he spends the weekends with Itohan, his flight attendant girlfriend. That is, when she’s not mid-air, somewhere, swarmed by woolly bursts of cloud, wearing a stylishly tailored ginger-orange suit, serving snacks to folk rich enough to charter the Max7. She’s vain, and binges on TikTok videos of romantic aesthetics, and sometimes he cannot stand her. But she’s generally affable and doesn’t interfere much with the progression of his depression, not for her lack of trying but for her lack of depth.
Otherwise, he invites Hauwa over, his Tinder hook-up turned side chick, who charges 25k per night and around 15k if he can be charming on the phone – and she’s broke enough. This one has a lot of depth, surprisingly, and is responsive to touch. She moans into his mouth when they fuck. She’s undemanding, unflinching in her emotional stolidity. She doesn’t demand attention and doesn’t make a fuss when he does not text back, and yet, she makes sex a more personal experience for him; sweaty, stinking, bare.
These days he’s drawn to living life on the edge, so he bones her raw, comes inside of her and hopes for the worst. He asks the driver to drive faster on the service lane, and talks back at Mr Bisi.
Lorwel & Singer
On his first day at Lorwel & Singer, he’s briefed by a short, round-ish, coal-coloured man with hollow eyes and chalk-white teeth – Mr Bisi – who tells him during the first briefing: “I want you to know that here, nobody sends your daddy. We are paying you, and you will do what we demand of you.”
“I understand, sir.”
“No, you don’t. See, as long as you work for us, you have no moral high ground on anything. What we do here is make shit look good.”
“I know that si—”
“If you cut me off one more time I’ll tear your offer letter, and you will go back to whatever BQ apartment you were squatting in at Mpape.”
“This is an advertising and PR firm. Our job is to make shit look good. Your job is to write copy so good they will make diabetic people queue for sugar. We do not give a shit about politics, and our only political interest lies with whoever is keeping our lights on. You understand?”
“If shit – you know shit? Like poo-poo – pays us for a job, everyone better be queueing to lap that shit up.”
But that was a lifetime ago, before he went through the virulence of office politics and its underlying scandals. He has, since that conversation, written that copy that sold sugar to diabetic patients, buttered up the public images of celebrities who do what celebrities do and politicians who do what politicians do. He has had that tryst with Amara from Accounting, and has, a couple of times, been let into the restroom on the third floor to sniff white lines with the guys from Illustration. Through all this, he has tried to find a balance between principle and duty, and has failed woefully at it, and so has to live on the blurred divide between personal conviction and the matrix of corporate existence.
And yet, none of this made him any less political, and he had only learnt to repress his fierce takes on polity and public personalities as long as he was within the enclosure of the company that had afforded him an upgrade in living standards.
This was until they landed Senator Bashiru Bashorun, AKA Bash Bash, who was the dirtiest pig to ever sit in the Red Chamber, who had allegedly drugged a girl he had knocked up to induce an abortion. She died, and he had somehow gotten away with no legal liabilities and had now contracted the agency to help him fix his bad public rep.
This would have posed only a little moral dilemma to Stanley if he had not lost a beloved cousin to a forced abortion. And though the hypocrisy of this convenient cherry-picking confronted him, he wished to play no part in ameliorating the image of a man who had reincarnated in another family the grief his family had felt. So he respectfully declined to be part of the team assigned to the client, had the shouting match with Mr Bisi, and was made to choose between the task and his job, and he understood very quickly that he had not the courage of conviction and so suffered the double humiliation of apologising and getting suspended for having the audacity to refuse initially.
“What’s the point in all this?” he asks Itohan on their first night together during his week-long suspension. She’s had a run of three free days and has spent two of those with him, lying over his lean body, tending to his angst.
“What’s the point of what?”
“Work. Why do we even have to go through this hustle? What’s the whole point?”
“To take care of yourself and your family, Stanley.”
Her guilelessness befuddles him; her sweet, sweet simplicity. The blankness in her eyes when she slithers safely through life, thinking in all the ways she should, saying all the things she’s allowed to. This is why she’s so easy to want, yet so easy to let go of. He digs his fingers into her hair and sighs. She doesn’t get it, does she? She does not understand that the ultimate purpose of life is death. That humanity was not designed to thrive, and thrive it did not, until man started to think, and started to will, and learnt to want and to desire and to love and to possess. And that from that moment, mankind has been in a race against time, against nature, against itself, and will ultimately lose in the end.
He does not tell her any of this. Instead, he just says, “True. True.”
She sits up, cups his chin in her hands, looks into his eyes, and says, “Let’s be each other’s purpose, baby. Let’s be our anchor.”
It kills him that he can no longer love her without the artificial intimacy of empathogens; that the incendiary of passion withers away at the other side of sensual revelations.
“You know what attracted me to you?” she asks later that night. “It’s how in control you are. I like your aura. You look like someone who will not take nonsense.”
It astounds him that a woman would find admirable a trait that he would never seek in anyone. He would imagine that leaving a relatively attractive pilot for a less buoyant, less forbearing dude working in advertising was a step-down, but Itohan does not think so.
Yet, he’s drawn to his share of toxicity, sub-letting a substantial portion of his affection to Hauwa, who melts into him when they fuck and steels herself against him every other time. Their relationship is as transactional as it gets, and she refrains from pouring more of herself into him than he’s willing to pay for, and yet she has inadvertently shown more promise of empathy to his depressive mien than anyone else.
Like him, she loathes the positivity junk the internet indulges in. “Why is everyone obsessed with talking about positivity and affirmations?”
Sometimes, he brings her around just to talk. She tells him of the last guy she’s been with. Sometimes they are interesting, like tech bros with coated nails, and sometimes they are slobs – old children of rich people who drive around Maitama in Asian cars with tinted windows. Her Tinder bio suggests a sophistication that is in fact undermined by her actual depth. He’s fascinated by her unwavering cynicism and has found surprising comfort in her lack of desire to live outside of the moment.
“I don’t know who lied to people that they need to plan their lives ahead,” she says one night while wrapping weed in a Juicy Jays wrap. “Or that everybody wants to live long and grow old with kids and all that jazz.”
“They say it has to do with purpose,” he shrugs.
“What purpose, though? Why does everyone have to have a purpose? What if humanity wasn’t meant to exist with purpose?”
“Then I guess we would be living like animals.”
“And we aren’t? Just because we have decided to wear clothes doesn’t make us much different, sha. Look around you, and you will see everyone rebelling in their ways. You are here smoking grass you very much know is harmful for you. You’re fucking me instead of your rich girlfriend. Everyone who has a job hates their job…”
“But if I weren’t working you wouldn’t be here with me right now.”
“And you don’t see the irony? You’re working at a job you hate to fund your rebellion, guy.”
“Well…entropy, baby. Second law of thermodynamics. Entropy increases in order. Humanity will always rebel against order. I am leading that rebellion.” Then, she puts up her fist and says in mock activism, “Fuck the system, power to the people.”
This doesn’t make much sense to him, but later that night she says, spontaneously, “Sometimes I just wish I could set the world on fire and burn along with it.” This one he relates to. He thinks about this a lot.
My Blueberry Dreams
On Monday 20 September, he resumes work at Lorwel & Singer, having served the pendency of his suspension.
He reports to HR, who reads the riot act to him, again, and directs him to the HOD for a briefing on his next line of duty. He has to wait, the HOD says, for something to come along.
He fixes his desk and lets himself stew in the awkwardness his presence caused at the workstation. He does not go out for lunch and does not flirt back when Sandra drags her seat to his table for their usual break time banter. At exactly 5pm, he packs his bag and books a cab home. When he’s asked about his uncharacteristic haste to leave the office, “I want to beat the traffic at Airport Junction,” he says. But he knows, more than anyone else, that he’s reaching the end of a course.
The next morning, he wakes up the same way he has woken up for the better part of the last couple of years – with a rock sitting heavy on his chest. The anxiety is usually palpable, almost like he can see it hanging on his window frame. He had learnt to navigate his way through it, shoving it aside with the reassurance that his life was not as iffy as his mind made him believe. This morning, however, he’s unable to shake off the palpitations that threaten to blow his heart to ashes. He presses the pillow tighter to himself and hopes for the worst. Then it comes to him, slowly, like blood streaming back to your brain after a dose of doxepin, the realisation that he will be turning 27 tomorrow.
He gets to work late and does nothing throughout the day other than think about the radical changes he will be making to his life in the new cycle. He decides that he will quit social media and delete WhatsApp. That he will not inform his friends of his birthday, as they would go over themselves to perform felicitations he would not be able to reciprocate.
He calls Hauwa and asks if she can come at night, but she says she’s in Ilorin and that she will take the first bus back to Abuja tomorrow morning. She will be with him on the night of his birthday. His heart flutters in anticipation of this, and this is how he knows.
This is how he knows.
On his way home, he texts his girlfriend, who’s somewhere in the VIP lounge of Kinshasa International Airport, trying to get some rest before the flight back to Abuja, and breaks up with her.
“No one talks about what a breakup does to the one who broke the heart,” he says to Olga later that night. “No one talks about the guilt that crushes you, especially when the person whose heart you broke had done nothing to deserve it.”
They don’t typically get this personal. Since she moved in a year ago they have only smoked together on the porch of her flat, and even then they tended to skirt around important social issues. But tonight he’s in her apartment for the first time, having been invited in because she was melting soy wax and didn’t want it to overheat on the stove.
The space is sparse; the grey couch adjacent to the study table is the only seat in the living room. A lit jar of candle sits on a metallic coffee table standing on a grey rug with thinning wools. There’s a Boris Loganson painting hung on the wall, just above a TV stand that has no TV on it. The apartment smells like stale cigarettes and lavender. Olga, skinny, with big hazel eyes and short silvery hair, smells like lavender.
Olga says nothing. She walks into the kitchen, a Benson tucked between her lips, and returns with a pitcher full of hot, molten soy wax.
“Well,” she says in her heavy Slavic accent, “people are afraid of talking about the parts they played as the bad guys.”
“Ashamed, I think. It’s shame.”
“Maybe,” she says as she walks back into the kitchen. She returns with a small bottle of perfume oil. “You know,” she resumes, “I broke a girl’s heart once.”
“Yup. I don’t want to go into details now, but it broke her real bad. She almost killed herself.”
“Ah, glad she didn’t.”
“She died anyway.”
“Yup. I should have let her leave when she wanted.”
“Really,” he mutters. This is neither a question nor a statement.
She pours the content of the perfume oil into the soy wax, then holds the empty bottle up and says, “Blueberry, this scent.”
She lays two pencils across the top of a small glass jug, parallel but close enough to steady the wick. Then she starts to pour in the molten wax from the pitcher to the jug. He observes how she’s trying to douse the intensity of the conversation by spacing her responses, distracting herself with work, stiffening her jaw.
“Always suicidal. Ana. She cut herself twice while we were together.”
“She was just…too much for me. Too much. I should have left way earlier. I just didn’t have the heart to. What was she going to do with herself?”
“So how did you eventually leave?”
“One holiday she was in Zagreb and I was in Kyiv, so I sent her that email. She appeared to take it well but then relapsed after a week or so. Then I had to go over to take care of her. We didn’t get back together anyway. She tried to understand. Yunno, to be strong.” She says all this with a practised passiveness. “But I knew her heart was breaking.”
“How did she, you know, die?”
“An accident.” She swallows hard. “A truck hit her car and it just caught fire.” She lets a warm silence hyphenate the succeeding statement. “I no longer think about suicide as such a terrible thing. If we had let her go by her own hands maybe she would have died in a painless way. Yunno, in a more dignified way. She would have been prepared at least.”
The wax has crystallised into a candle. Olga lifts the jar up and examines it for breakage, then sniffs the content for desired fragrance.
“You know how a smell reminds you of a certain time in your life when you used to be happier?” she asks. “Blueberry, that was what everything smelled like back then. Sometimes I have blueberry dreams where I’m happier and everything smells like blueberry again. I try not to get used to it, though. When you expose yourself too much to nostalgia the magic dies. This candle reminds me of happier times.”
Then she stretches it to him. “Take. It’s your birthday gift. I hope it brings you happier times.”
He takes the candle jar and, with a quivering voice, he manages to say, “Thank you, Olga. Thank you.”
Happiness is an illusion
On his 27th birthday, Stanley Amoto does not switch his phone on until noon. Instead, he lets himself have an extra pill of tramadol before he leaves home. Not that he cannot afford a more dignifying addiction, but he has taken extra precautions just in case he ever gets hooked. Better to be hooked to a poison that is cheap and accessible.
It’s that day of the year when the office is kinder to him. Colleagues at the workstation sing the Happy Birthday song to him, and Sandra offers to buy him pizza from Star Pizza in Wuse, his favourite spot. Even Mr Bisi mutters a cold happy birthday to him when they bump into each other in the corridor.
He doesn’t intend to remain here for much longer. He will quit at the end of the year maybe, and who knows, finally get around to writing that screenplay he had always idealised.
At noon, he switches his phone on and gets a barrage of text messages from his father and older brother. He doesn’t get along much with them, so he leaves the messages unattended. There’s no message from Itohan, and he’s instantly reminded of how selfish he is for expecting a birthday wish from her less than 24 hours after he broke up with her.
He phones Hauwa to ask about her trip, but her number is switched off and the call doesn’t go through. He instantly starts to miss her and can’t wait to tell her about the blueberry-scented candle; about happiness. Once, she had told him that happiness was an illusion. “It’s just a temporary feeling of insane satisfaction we feel when we achieve something. It disappears after a while and we develop another desire again.”
What a sad bitch, he’d thought. But wasn’t she right, though? Has everything he has achieved not only served as a catalyst for other desires? Is there an end to the concept of want? Will there ever be a point of eternal satisfaction?
At 1pm, the office, rather lethargic for most of the day, roars to life. There has been a development. A bus belonging to Godswill Emeka Transport Company, en route to Abuja, had suffered a brake failure and rammed itself against a truck. Six of the passengers are dead. There’s a social media outrage brewing over the company’s track record of negligence, and now the firm has been contracted to manage it.
The brief lands on his desk, and he pulls himself up to task. He’s good at this shit, even the office administration knows. He’d developed a strategy for a similar situation last year. A meeting is convened to discuss the immediate course of action. He will ask everyone to dig up dirt on the company that owns the truck, and they will pay blogs and social media pages to refocus attention on the truck. Two casualties will be reported rather than six. Hold off pressure from social media for 24 hours, until something inane knocks it off the top shelf of Twitter trends.
Also in attendance at the meeting are Mr Bisi, who’s leading the meeting; Mr Olajide, the COO of the company and in attendance today because he has a personal relationship with Chief Godswill Emeka; Sandra, the Head of Publications; and Oge, who will be handling the client company’s social media pages until everything blows over.
“Without wasting much of your time,” Mr Bisi starts, “I will quickly brief you again on the details of the incident. This morning a bus belonging to our client took off from a park at Ilorin and—”
A stinging alarm bell rings in Stanley’s head. “From where did you say, sir?” he dares to interrupt.
Mr Bisi shoots him an arrow with his eyes before repeating, very calmly, “Ilorin.” Then he continues, “Six passengers have been confirmed dead and six others seriously wounded. Normally the company would contact the next-of-kin of the deceased passengers, but we have advised that they let us do it instead. It needs to be professionally done.” He pulls out a piece of paper from a file and waves it around. “Here’s a list of the dead people and the contacts of their families. We will assign—”
“Can I see the list please?”
Mr Bisi pauses, makes a measured effort to veil his irritation, and passes the list to Sandra. Stanley snatches it from Sandra’s outstretched hands and starts to peer into it with a frightening grimness.
It takes a while. His eyes forage, rummaging through the register of the damned while the gaze of the entire room rests upon him. His focus steadies and lingers a bit. Then he looks away from the paper, into the white emptiness of the wall opposite him, his eyes misting into two small ponds.
In real life, there are no poetic endings. The actors just stop in the middle of the performance and the curtains close. Abruptly. There’s no sequel or warning or closure. People just walk out the door with the arrogant assurance that the way that leads out will always lead back in. It doesn’t.
Without a word, he tosses the paper onto the table, gets out of his seat and, taking all the eyeballs in the room with him, he walks away.
Victor Daniel is a Nigerian lawyer and screenwriter. He lives in Abuja and works in real estate.
*Image by Dan Cristian Pădureț on Unsplash