Veins are kite strings we can only cut free —Andrea Gibson
I thought I would never write this story.
“Sir, when was the last time you thought of killing yourself?”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“Can we reschedule?”
Today I came home with a belly drenched in litres of petrol I forced down my throat. This story will never end, but it does have a beginning.
My depression eats me patiently and washes me down with the sound of the silence in my bedroom. This is how I learn that when you stretch your body to occupy spaces, it weaves itself into a form of its own, another excuse to feel smaller each time you climb into your bed.12.
On the bus, the woman next to me didn’t seem to notice I probably wouldn’t be alive in the next thirty minutes. I thought when you want to kill yourself, you will be visibly marked. Everyone would notice. The driver waved me into his bus, after asking me my location, as if the petrol sitting in my stomach wasn’t enough to fuel his car all the way to the nearest cemetery.
I didn’t tell him. Instead, I asked him to stop me at the Catholic Cathedral, I should find a therapist there. I thought he would see the sign. He is marked, the sign should say. Nobody saw it. I was dizzy and everything was becoming fuzzy. How could they not see that? God should have sent somebody. He/she/they should have stopped me. What kind of god lets a human-time-bomb, forged in litres of petrol, liquid fire, to walk into a bus and sit next to a woman thinking of dinner?
“Breathe. Breathe. I hope the couch is comfortable?”
“Should I turn off the air conditioner?”
“Why did you want to kill yourself?”
“Can you hear me, Sir?”
The church is the earliest memory I have of my childhood. Mum made us go to all the bible study sessions in the children’s ministry. In Wukari, Taraba state, where I grew up, the children’s ministry was much organised. There were series of classes that you had to pass through and they actually took exams.
I don’t remember anything from those classes. Sunday school. Evening bible study. Monday classes. None. Maybe I was just too young.
I remember the black fruit we plucked after services. My elder sister and my cousin. I don’t remember how we are related. I remember the pimples on my cousin’s face and how I stared at them whenever she bent to pick out fruits. They always seemed to be rotten by the time they fell. All I remember about my sister is the cheerful-coloured gowns she wore, with a hat to match each one. It was 2003 or so and I don’t know how old I was. I wasn’t up to six years old. I remember it in showers. Light showers.
“Would you say that your childhood was pleasant?”
“Why are you smiling? So it was pleasant then?”
Growing up, I was taught how to laugh in-between the lines, in monosyllables that come off neat and harmless. Nobody taught me how to envy my skin or write love letters to myself or peace. I learnt everything I was taught I had to or I wouldn’t move to the next class
I don’t remember saying much. In church, at home. I say a little at school. I just remember being at those places. Not a single sentence. I was everywhere I was supposed to be, rather, my mum thought I was supposed to be, without leaving a trace. After the children’s Sunday services, we had to wait for the adults to dismiss. That is the only memory I have of the church. It was like floating in and out of places.
Children running around, climbing cashew trees, picking rotten mangoes, tasting them, spitting them out, crying, letting themselves be consoled, wiping the tears, starting all over again. It was all like a silent movie to me. Only, I was in the cast. I ran, cried, did everything and never said anything. I wasn’t a quiet boy, I was just mute.
“Any memories you might want to share with me?”
“Are you happy, Sir?”
“Let me help you?”
Onyinye. She was much older than I was, but she still, somehow, winded up beside me the whole time. We were together the way an ocean clings to a sinking ship. Once, she suggested we played father and mother, and then chose to be father. I remember her lying on the pew, where bibles were dropped in the children session, smiling down at me. Me: an abandoned child in a war zone, lying on the seat of the same pew, staring at this girl, who seemed to be just happy, lying there, saying nothing. I remember my ‘cousin’ calling to take me home.
I don’t remember saying goodbye.
You know, moths have no choice than to flirt with flames. When the flames bite their wings, they call it exercise and apply first aid. It’s their destiny.
The first time I ever thought of killing myself was in Nsukka.
I wanted pass any sharp thing through my body.
Dad stayed in Nsukka, Enugu state, alone. Whenever he visited, he would bring bread — even though mum sold bread at our store — and most importantly, avocados. Those were scarce in the north. Bread and avocado was his favourite too. At that time, one of them was sold for #50. My mother couldn’t sell avocados in our shop because our neighbour already did. The northerners didn’t ask for it anyway. Our shop was the first in a row of shops owned by Igbo people. Selling avocado would have been a waste of money. Only the Igbos who lived in our street, Akata Street, bought them and every other shop in that row sold it.
I remembered my dad for avocados and hard luck.
Each time he came, something bad happened to me. One night, my elder sister urinated in my bathing water and my mum made me use it. My sister had beaten me while we were alone at home. I don’t really know why she did that. I managed to run the few blocks it took to reach the shop. I cried so hard that my father got me a bottle of Sprite, and handed me some slices of bread. At night, my sister struck. My mother didn’t believe me. Maybe, she felt I was just being mischievous, and made me bathe with the water. I remember crying. I remember the water and my sister’s urine washing the tears in joint mockery. Something bad happens whenever my father comes back, but I still wanted him to. Avocados.
No one asked if I wanted to move or not.
Perhaps I was just too young.
I don’t even remember packing my bags. But I remember the journey. I was sitting on my father’s lap in the seat closest to the window. We: my mom, sister, cousin and I used to visit my dad in Nsukka from time to time, but that was all it was, visits. I had already made home out of a strange land. My sister would have slapped me if she heard me call Wukari my home. This time, I was supposed to stay in Nsukka for a longer time. Maybe forever. I’m not sure how I felt about that. I hummed the few Hausa songs I learnt till I got tired.
And then forgot, all of them.
Memories are lonely horse riders. They never stay too long in a new town. They are always on the road. I’m learning to love them without getting committed.
When I held the knife in our bedroom in Nsukka, I was standing next to the red cupboard that had cracked glasses. My father kept a couple of fancy ceramics we never used there, right next to the kitchen knife.
It was on a Sunday morning.
I had chicken pox and my dad rubbed a white lotion all over my body.
Onyinye could be playing in a church, thousands of miles away. She could still be lying on that pew, saying nothing, smiling down at a different boy this time.
Maybe, I was the sinking ship the ocean was trying to hold on to.
When I forgot the Hausa songs we sang on the playground, I forgot faces too. I no longer remembered what she looked like. The only recurrent memory I had of her was a Gif file: a girl lying on a church pew, and a boy staring at her. Blankly. Not knowing what it means for a girl that age to climb a pew for him.
The blade was sharp. I had watched my dad cut onions and peel avocadoes with it. I pointed it to my stomach in one slow movement and watched the tip flirt with my shirt buttons. I felt that if I died, all the people in the children’s ministry would have to attend. I didn’t win all those bible quizzes for nothing. All the teachers knew me. I had even seen the coordinator several times, talking to my mother after services. Onyinye would come. Everyone would come.
I couldn’t get through with it each time. I always let the knife dance around my shirt for a while before I put it back.
I repeated it every day. I can’t remember when I stopped trying, but I remember not telling anyone, including myself. That was the first time.
“Son, why then did you come all this way to this place if you will not speak to me?”
“Please say something, you have been mute since you asked for a reschedule?”
“Are you sure you don’t need a priest instead, because I’m just a therapist?”
“Ok, let’s reschedule. Thanks for coming”
I give my body options and it always chooses to baptize itself in seas because they say salt are water made flesh. But the salt my body chooses is an abusive lover who changes its taste so when I look in the mirror I tell myself that I need a new one and the only way to wear a new body is to die and when I say I die every day, it’s not a decision, it’s just my nature
I‘m marked. The man in charge of the universe shouldn’t let living ghosts like me roam his planet. There was no reason for drinking the petrol. The only difference between today and the days I stood next to the red cupboard, knife in hand, is that I’m twenty. I am a final year student of a university in Nigeria, who is more interested in finding more ways to end his life, than actually living it.
When I woke up this morning, I didn’t know I would try to end my life again. A rainbow can never wash off his colours. He will never be clean. I just walked into a filling station and asked for two litres of petrol. The attendant looked at me like I just walked out of the sky. I got the point and crossed the road to buy two nylons. She glanced furtively at me as the nozzle spat fuel. She was handing me my funeral clothes. Inadvertently.
No one could see the mark.
Every time I walk out of my bedroom I am aware that I’m an unforgiveable sin. People like me shouldn’t be allowed to walk free with all the monsters our depression carves into our brains. The attendant watched a sin walk free and did nothing about it. My mother, well, she will certainly cry.
My sister never cries.
She might just knit silently for two months till the grief slips through her needle. My father would just grunt for a week and go back to peeling avocadoes, with the same kitchen knife that flirted with my shirt buttons.
My memory will never stick.
I pity the therapists I have visited over the years. I never spoke to any of them. A moth will always dance to flames. I tried petrol because kerosene didn’t work out the last time. I threw up in my bedroom and the whole plan was gone. I was in second year then. Death is a safe pair of hands whispering my name, and I draw closer every day. A mere therapist’s questions can’t make me betray his trust.
No bride leaves death at the altar.
At twenty, there is not much difference between now, and the night my sister peed in my bathing water. I’m still the boy who doesn’t know how to shout at bullies. Who still falls for every girl in the playground (she doesn’t even have to lie on a pew). Who still floats into spaces without occupying them. Who leaves no traces. Who is mute. My bed feels smaller each time I lie on it. The boy never grew up.
Life still pees in every bucket of water I use. My bathroom walls look on helplessly as the liquid mockery trickles into my mouth. My bathing water is always warm.
Why can’t anyone see my mark? I never belonged here. I’m still too young to understand anything. The boy that watched a kitchen knife flirt with his buttons and said nothing still lives here. For some reason, the knife has not stopped flirting with me.
We are in a long term relationship now.
I lie on the bed and let the rumble in my stomach continue. This is going to be the last attempt. This will be a long night. It has been an hour since I left the therapist’s office, and I’m spoon-feeding this story to my journal. No one holds my pain more than he does. When I fall asleep, I’m never going to wake up again.
I am ready to dream myself into a shiny casket.
This is the longest story I have ever written.
Goodnight therapist, filling station attendant, driver, woman on the bus, sister, cousin, mum, dad, Onyinye. I forgive you. I’m the sin here. I’m unforgiveable.
I wake up. Again.