I must not be in Lagos this weekend.
I had never hated a place the way I hated Lagos last weekend and I did not even know why. I just knew that I was done. It was Friday and I was closing for the week at work when one of my colleagues asked me what I was going to do for the weekend. I did not know what I was going to do. Actually, my plan for the weekend was chill. That Friday, I wanted to go look at the water in Akoka. I had told my friends – I am going to Unilag to look at the water. I needed the quiet, the peace that I feel when I am looking at a body of water, I wanted serenity.
Do you ever feel lonely?
During the past week, a friend called Angel had shared a playlist with me. The playlist is titled ‘Serenity’. An Angel sent me serenity. In response to the playlist, I had sent her an email asking, Do you ever feel lonely? I check back on the mail now and I can’t even make sense of most of the things I said. That weekend was a terrible one. I did not know what exactly was wrong with me. I knew I was tired, exhausted, burnt out, finished. I was done. But why? Was it work? Work has not been unusually demanding so maybe not work. So what else? What else takes the bulk of my time, my life?
I had never experienced this before so I did not even know what to name it. I had been tired of things, of people, of activities. I had also been physically tired. There was this day I was going to get dinner and I could feel my chest heaving. I could hear my breathing. I was tired. I slowed down and sat on the pavement by the roadside to catch my breath and then I took a shuttle to the food place. I know what physical tiredness is. This one was different. It was new.
It was feeling lonely when you have a lot of people around you. It was ending the week on a good note but not feeling any form of achievement. It was sending a message to your boys’ group asking, Do you ever feel lonely? It was calling your daddy and talking on the phone for about thirty minutes. It was sending a message to your mummy at 1 am saying “I miss you today and I wanted to check in and say I love you mummy” and she replying with “I love you too. Be blessed in Jesus name. Shalom.” and then you wonder, “It’s 1 am mummy. Why are you up?” And she says, “ I woke up to pray.”
And that got to you. That your mummy is up at 1 am to pray and if you ask her what she’s praying for, she’ll tell you: my children.
No idea where I am going but I have left Lagos.
I like traveling. I love road trips. Of course with Nigeria, that means potholes, noise, traffic jam, noise again, violence, turbulence, crash, and finally, noise. But I love it still, sitting quietly in a car, looking out of the window, watching the trees fly past, being in motion.
I left Lagos but did not know where I was going. I knew I was going to Ibadan but I also knew Ibadan was not my final destination. There were three possible destinations: Ogbomoso, which is where my family house is; Iwo, which is where my mother works and lives; Ife, which is where a few of my friends are.
I got to Ibadan and took a car to Ife. In Ife, I call a friend and ask where I can stay if I want to just be quiet and lay low. I don’t want to see anybody or have someone run into me and say ‘Oriade you are in Ife!’ and then go to their socials and say, ‘Look who I ran into today.’ No please, don’t run into me. I will run away.
The human eye…
“You once told me that the human eye is god’s loneliest creation. How so much of the world passes through the pupil and still it holds nothing. The eye, alone in its socket, doesn’t even know there’s another one, just like it, an inch away, just as hungry, as empty.” ― Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.
Alone in the hotel room, I read Ocean Vuong. While reading Ocean, I think of Zadie Smith. There is a kind of writing I want to achieve with my creative nonfiction. I want a blend of Zadie Smith, Yiyun Li, and Ocean Vuong. I want to do impossible things with writing.
I think about the girl Zadie Smith wrote about in her collection of ‘pandemic’ essays, the one who committed suicide.
“Early on in the crisis, I read a news story concerning a young woman of only seventeen, who had killed herself three weeks into lockdown, because she “couldn’t go out and see her friends.” She was not a nurse, with inadequate PPE and a long commute, arriving at a ward of terrified people, bracing herself for a long day of death. But her suffering, like all suffering, was an absolute in her own mind, and applied itself to her body and mind as if uniquely shaped for her, and she could not overcome it and so she died.” Zadie wrote in Intimations.
In the hotel room, I read and sleep. And then I read again. I traveled with my copy of Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles but I did not open it throughout my stay in Ife. I did watch a lot of Netflix though. Maybe too much Netflix actually.
I had removed my social media apps for that weekend so there was nothing to distract me from the peace that came from being alone, reading and watching movies. I did not take a lot of pictures which is also unlike me. Is this what serenity looks like? Sitting by the lagoon and watching the water flow? Sitting outside the kitchen in the evening and watching the sky go dark? Traveling from Lagos to Ife while listening to your Najia Jam playlist? Staying in the hotel room faraway from home, just reading and watching movies? Sleeping and waking up and sleeping again without setting alarms? Removing your social media apps so that you could focus? Traveling and enjoying the moments without feeling the urge to capture the moment because the memories you’ll have in your mind if you enjoy the present is enough?
On Monday, I knew I was ready to return. Before I took my bath, I sat down to write down things I wanted to do differently starting from today. I wrote five things down and kept a few more in my head. Chief of these is that I need to take more breaks and that I need to infuse breaks into my days. Waiting until you collapse before you relax is bad and unhealthy. Breaking your body apart because you know it will heal itself is flying too close to the sun. I don’t want to melt. I wrote down those resolutions and I intend to live by them till I no longer need to. It’s been a week since I took that trip to Ife and yes, I am better. I am much better. Road trips? I would definitely recommend it.
What is serenity to you?
For me, it’s water, road trips and many other things I am yet to discover. For some, it’s parties, outings, and loud music. For others, it’s death. Like the lady in Intimations. Like Matthew Warren back in 2013.
In April 2013, the author of A Purpose Driven Life, Pastor Rick Warren wrote to his congregation after his son Matthew committed suicide:
“No words can express the anguished grief we feel right now. Our youngest son, Matthew, age 27, and a lifelong member of Saddleback, died today. [He was] an incredibly kind, gentle, and compassionate man. But only those closest knew that he struggled from birth with mental illness, dark holes of depression, and even suicidal thoughts. In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided. I’ll never forget how, many years ago, after another approach had failed to give relief, Matthew said, ‘Dad, I know I’m going to heaven. Why can’t I just die and end this pain?’ But he kept going for another decade.”
Keep going, folks.
This past week, I read:
So what is wrong with mediocrity? By Ore Eni-ibukun.
Lucky For You by Victoria Bejamin.
I am stuck on Mayorkun’s ‘Jonze Me’. Even I can’t explain it.
Also listening to
Howl by Jake Houlsby
Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door by Bob Dylan
World Spins Madly On by The Weepies.
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