I stopped talking, what was the point? Why did we live, to die anyway?
On the 20th of May, 2010, I woke up early to relax, since I did not have any exams to write, till the following week. It was a Thursday and the last exam I had written was on Wednesday, which was my yesterday and my friend Kessiena, had missed that paper, Phonetics and Phonology, Lang 203. It was an elective for him as a student of English Literature, but a Core course for me, I was in the language class. But he had missed it, not because it was an elective, but because he was that University’s Sick Bay. He had had an attack. I should have paid him a visit on Tuesday, on my way back from church, after evening service, and I would have told him, if he were conscious, how I had reeled off his phone number +2348058805636, from the top of my head, when I was asked for mine. It was after a beat, that I realized, the number was his after all, and I gave the right one.
I cannot remember why I truly, did not pay him a visit, that day, maybe I wanted to revise for my paper on Wednesday, but I know I did not go to see him. I always had a habit of taking things really slowly and at my own pace. I decided to go on Thursday morning, at say, 10 am. I was up early, but I felt it would be too early to hit the Sick Bay. Emergencies did not bother me, one bit. Bad Habit at the time. I just always felt, things will sort themselves out, calmly. I figured I’d go as soon as I had had a bath and washed up. I went to sit with my neighbor, to buy time. I took my time, little did I know that my friend had put an end to his and that I had taken all the time I would ever have with him. But I knew I was going to visit him, to tell him about the paper he missed, and that I missed him and that he should get well soon and I wanted to give back his laptop too.
While I was buying time, and fiddling with a phone that was not mine, a friend came looking for me, to give me bits of news that would be mine forever.
“Kess is dead,” she announced.
“which Kess?” I asked, still sitting in the corner of the bunk bed, in my neighbor’s room, I do not know when I gave back the phone. My hands needed to be free to bear this news, this story, my life needed to be free to own it. It was as heavy as lead.
“the Kess you know” came the response.
I denied it. “that’s not possible, I am going to see him today, at the Sick Bay, no, I will be going in a bit”.
“he can’t be, not the Kess I know, I am sure you did not hear right, maybe they were talking about someone else” I was breaking into tiny little bits, inside, caving in.
“He died yesterday”. She tried again.
And she succeeded because that was when I began to cry. To sob. Heavy solid heaves, that made me break inside, with every breath I drew. Before now, my life had been in only two phases; One before I gained admission into school, where there was no Kess and the other after I got into school and had Kess. Balance became a mystery to me, how was I going to reconcile this life of mine, and stop me from falling, into the other and losing myself. If I did, I’d never be found. But how was I going to live another life, another phase, without Kess? Should I quit school, and go back to being a secondary school dropout? Or should I end it too? It would have been easier to just rewind, pause my life, and never meet him. I wished I did not meet him at all. I was angry and furious, I blamed everybody. Fuck Nigeria! For being such a country that did not care about people like Kess, people who were artists, who are appreciated for their artistry and not forced into college because it is the norm. Fuck his parents! For ever getting married, when they knew, deep down in their hearts that it was possible for them to give birth to a boy like him, who would be anemic. Fuck him! For giving up, for telling the doctors to stop the drugs that would have kept him alive, for saying he was tired, for being so hurt, for being in so much pain, it hurt all over again, that he was so hurt, that it had to be him, that he had to die when he did, that he had to leave me, I sobbed. Fuck me! For not being caring enough to read up about my friend’s medical condition, until he died, for not going to see him earlier, maybe I would have stopped him from giving up. For being so angry and sad, and depressed.
I stopped talking, what was the point? Why did we live, to die anyway? And, there was no one to trust. He was dead and gone, surely, I should get over it. Those who offered to listen did not imply so, but they said so, to be nice, the same way people say, I will be praying for you, just to seem righteous. They hardly remember you in their prayers. I wanted to be left alone.
I went from exams to dreams about him, to nightmares and grief. On the day of the candlelight procession, I went to a room that was far away from the street of Queen Amina hostel, because I knew they would walk from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, walk past the fountain, then the front of Queen Amina hostel, down to Suleiman block, then back, through Ribadu and rest at the Faculty of Arts. I did not want to be a part of it. I could not bear the sight of him, held high, above candle lights, with sorrowful songs to accompany the souls in black. But I made it to the valedictory night. I spoke and choked on tears-filled words, but I made it. He would have been proud. I hoped it was all a lie, that he would stroll into his own valedictory night and say he was messing with us all, that he was alive. But he was not. He was gone, so were my stares that day, gone, into blank spaces and nothingness, gone. So were the long conversations and text messages, like the one where he said, his doctor has advised him to stay away from sweets, but he could not stay away from me, all gone, the walks at night, the deep conversations about life, about moving in with his best friend, about his girlfriend, about our studies and career, gone, I would never know the smell of his body again, never see his long skinny fingers, never touch his dry palms, or offer lip gloss for his dry lips, never watch him walk, or share the little money we have on Massa and suya, from a Suya Spot close to our Lecture Theatre, all gone, I will never stare into his yellowish kind and warm eyes, see his slender body walk into class, never hear each other out, him about his mom, who was his backbone and the only one in the family who had his time. I would never jump on his back to be piggybacked to class. Never be tickled again, when I was pissed and he wanted to make me laugh. It was all gone and I would have to live with that.
He was gone, but his apparition stayed in my dreams. I was still furious. I would cry and scream and fight him for leaving me all alone. It went on until I once let him speak. I was tired. He apologized for giving up. I accepted. He never appeared in my dreams again. Some days later, I noticed some rash on my body. I thought it was Small Pox. I googled and it was. But I was not really ill, I was healthy, normal, as normal can be. I just was not talking to anyone. I thought and knew, my grades might just be bad. Nothing made sense. I could not connect any dot. The lecturers spoke for too long. My coursemates were boring. I ate little food or nothing at all. I was in class, but never there. Everything seemed to happen so fast! But I had smallpox, and it did not come with any fever.
When my brother recommended a doctor, I thought it was not necessary, but I met with the doctor anyway, an appointment had been made. The doctor took my blood samples and ran multiple tests. He fixed another appointment. When I got there, he started by saying, “it is not HIV, I bet you must have been scared”. I think he wanted to be funny, but, who cares about laughing right now? why did people even laugh about anything in the world? nothing should be funny, because nothing makes any sense! I had one reason to laugh, someone to laugh with and he is no more, gone, like he were a puff of cigarette smoke, gone! I wondered why God had created humans at all, to serve him? So why did they die? Why did they have to die?
“you are depressed”, the doctor cut into my thoughts,
“what does that even mean”, I asked blandly,
“It means, you have depression”, he continued. “are you worried about your grades in school?”
that is the only reason that will make sense right now and considering the fact that I attend a Nigerian University. Being in a Nigerian University is depressing, without having to add the death of my friend. “yes, I am”, I replied. I did not retort, I did not think too deeply about what he said, I was too unfazed.
He gave me a pack of Vitamins B Complex. “This will boost your brain”. I was grateful, he had given me a medical health hack. He was kind. I took all the injections, on my arm, on the stipulated days. Going back to school and having to explain why I had smallpox hurt, but I did anyway.
“May are you okay?” they would ask, sounding really concerned.
“I have smallpox” I would reply. I could not say I was depressed. It was not for black girls, not for Africans. Until that time, I did not know it was possible for me to get depressed, to actually be diagnosed medically, with depression. I know I have heard my friend say, something someone had done was depressing, but never have I actually heard someone say, they were depressed. I knew some people will think me mad. So, I did not bother telling anyone, I shoved it down my throat, like a meal of boiled yam, without water to push down the food. No one understood. I carried my ailment like a cross to Golgotha. This was my cross, but what was my sin? Liking a friend, too much? So much so that their demise hurt? maybe that was my sin. When I lost my brother in 2005, five years before I lost my friend, I did not fall or drown. I had saved it for this day and now I was falling, like a pack of cards. I was in water, falling deep but I was not drowning.
how do you survive drowning?
when you are not in water,
no seaweed tangled around your legs
no air to pull yourself to,
gasp and hope someone comes to help
no water to flail your hands against,
none to blink away from your eyes
or swim in till you are steady and can drown in peace,
but you are drowning,
no sore eyes
no tired feet
no weak hands
no water-filled stomach
no water-logged ears
no clothes sticking to your skin
but you are drowning,
and it is not water.
I prayed to not see the light of day. what was the point? I wanted to be gone too. I scribbled what I titled “Onye Oshi”. It was death. I wrote it in a jotter Kess had given me, after a wedding, he attended in Abuja. I collated all the texts he sent to me before his death and read them whenever I could. I clawed bits of him, that I could find, here and there, saved them in my fingernails, to remember. No matter how tiny. I left his number on my phone and dialed it, from time to time, until it was assigned to another owner, who lives in Makurdi, Benue State. I cried. I am crying now. I dodged having conversations about him with other people. I did not want to know much. I did not know what to say to them. But I know I needed to say something to someone and it did not have to be them, so I began to journal. It seemed messy. When I asked a lecturer and told him I wrote rubbish, he said: “don’t stop, it will all make sense someday.” I wrote my way out. I lashed out at my book. It was a safe space, my fortress of solitude, these books, the journals, the words. I knew it would not tell me it was weary or tired of hearing me talk about one boy! I wrote until I emptied every hurt and pain I was carrying. I said it all to my journal and I discovered the greatest gift of all, the blessing of words. I tell myself whenever I remember to do so, that Kess gave me a posthumous birthday gift. I write because of him. And he is so kind, even in death, isn’t he? I cannot speak about writing and not speak of Kessiena Uyovebisere, my epiphany.