Peace

There are things you must do for yourself:

Like thinking, like learning, like feeling.

Like laughing, like loving, in spite of not because.

 

Finally then comes peace.

 

 

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Learning to Be Free

The day you are stop caring about the perceptions of others is the day you are really and truly free.

Look, don’t believe people when they tell you you’re amazing, without blemish and sparkling white clean. Because you’ll also have to believe them when they say you’re stupid, dirty, dumb and worth nothing at all.

You’re somewhere in the middle; between good and bad, striving for good and making your mistakes along the way. Learn to pick yourself up when you do stupid things. Find your passions and chase them relentlessly. Focus on you before anyone else, and sister, you will be free.

And me? I am happy. I’m finding how easy my dreams can be and that I can make them true. That I can create and craft things to existence simply by the force of my will.

No, not my will alone. I have the most supportive parents; a father who tells me he’s proud of me and a mother who encourages my ambition. I’m the happiest I can be.

 

Learning Self-Compassion

“Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?”- Kristen Neff from self-compassion.org

 I struggle with self-compassion. I beat myself up for not being perfect. Nothing shows my perfectionist attitude (that I’m trying to break) than in high school when I got excellent grades (6A*s and 2As) by anyone’s standards but I wasn’t happy because it wasn’t “perfect”.

I used to think it made me stronger; until I woke up one morning crying my eyes out. Instead of dealing with feelings of betrayal, inadequacy and humiliation, I would blame myself for not knowing better or doing better.

I prolonged my pain; if I had stopped beating myself up for not knowing or not being perfect, chances are I would have been better much earlier. But by ignoring it while simultaneously blaming myself, it all came crumbling down when I couldn’t pretend to not care anymore. Even now I’m still blaming myself for not being “strong enough” to shake it off and forget. Whatever that means.

When your self-esteem comes crumbling down and you begin to question everything about yourself, or you become deathly insecure about who you are and what you can do, maybe it’s time to practice some self-compassion.

You are entitled to make mistakes, or not know something. Don’t blame yourself for not knowing, just heal and move on. It will still hurt but at least the feelings of shame will be gone.

 

The Truth May Not Set You Free

Before I buy a book I like to read all the reviews I can find online. Money is scarce and the dollar keeps rising, so I’d like to know if it’s worth it.

The book I wanted to buy was Black Bourgeoisie by E.F. Frazier published in 1957. Reviews said it was a scathing exploration of the black middle class in US, which surprisingly (or not surprisingly, depending on you think about it) behaves very similarly to the ever-shrinking Nigerian middle class. Both are marked by conspicuous consumption, a need to differentiate itself from its supposedly backwater “bush” relatives, and quite frankly, an identity crisis.

Maybe I will write a review on the book and continue my comparison but I do not aim to do that here. What I do want to do is talk about ‘truth’ and how we run from it, and most importantly, from the people who give it a little too profusely.

The truth about the truth is that nobody likes it. Nobody likes to see himself or herself in a less than glorious light. But we remain incredibly flawed, mortal creatures. So how do we tend to reconcile the two? Shut out, sometimes violently anything or anyone that makes us even slightly uncomfortable about the things we do not want to hear about ourselves.

One of the reviews I read on the book mentioned that of course, when the book first came out, the middle class he talked about was outraged by what he said. But quietly, they began to look within themselves to make the necessary adjustments.

Of course, they couldn’t let him know he was right. You see people will gaslight and try to make you shut up. But once they see you are right, they’ll quietly begin to make adjustments and pretend they knew all along. This means the very few people who have the guts to function as our moral compasses are often very misunderstood and even shunned.

People who tell us the things we do not like to hear are rarely very happy people. And I suppose that it maybe the price one has to pay for being honest; it is a huge one, life is easier if you flip-flopped through it.

Does that mean we shouldn’t speak up if need be? Absolutely not. Our lives would be far worse if we did not have our revolutionaries, the people who drove our understanding to new heights and whose thoughts illuminated our minds. There must be a benefit to knowing in your little way, you’ve shaped the thoughts of people around you, and if you’re lucky, even those far beyond. It can be compared to the joy of having children: something of you remains long after you have gone.

But don’t expect anything in this lifetime. You might be spat on, kicked, shunned and hated by the very people you are trying to save from themselves. It might take you your death (in which they probably were the ones who killed you) for them to finally see.

 

The truth might not set you free if you’re the one telling it.

Brain Splat

Asmara was light-eyed and dark skinned and smelled like sweat and cinnamon.

Asmara told me of his great home. Of his family, of his house on a hill and his son. And how that son came to be. How he grew to hate his son’s mother who he once loved.

Most of all, Asmara had dreams but those dreams did not include me.

So my dreams should not include him. But they do.

***

Cancer starts as just one cell that your body neglects to kill. Then it festers and takes you away. Eats away at your breast tissue and your spirit. Your loved ones will mourn for you.

Eat rice at your funeral they will

remember you

laugh or cry or both.

But one day, you will all but be forgotten because they that keep you alive;

will be gone too.

***

I don’t quite know what I am or who I am yet. Sometimes I dream of a life far removed from what I have now. But that is silly. Life is what it is, and what is it?

I don’t know. What is life? You tell me.

Fright Night

John

It was a Wednesday evening and in a short while, I would be parking cars in the church compound. The compound was huge, and the rectangular block church was right in the middle. It looked just like the houses I’d draw in nursery school as a child with two windows beside the brown door and a green triangular roof. Although I could never have drawn the door; it was splendid: a double-­bolted Chinese door with gold and brass trimmings that was out of place with the unpainted cement church walls. It was definitely new as the cement holding it in place was still fresh.

John, Pastor wants me to remind you to lock the main gate once people stop filing in. Don’t forget oh!” Phyllis had always shouted as she knocked on my door to draw my attention. I lived in the compound right of the church, where Pastor Keye still lives.

Phyllis is a distant relative of his, but I never cared to know the specifics. I usually had her explain it to me time and time again just so I could hear her voice and stare at her breasts. I still wonder if she knew that was exactly why I always asked her for how she was related to Pastor. Knowing her, she probably did. We could have had a chance, my Phyllis. My playful, effervescent Phyllis, if only she weren’t so evil.

I had always thought it was strange that Pastor Keye never invited me into his church.

In fact, he specifically told me I was not invited when he offered me the job.  I did almost nothing and made five thousand Naira a week (20,000 Naira a month); that was enough to smooth away any questions. I’m currently serving and I was making twice my alawee(1) of ten thousand Naira every month just from telling people where to park. But it was all blood money.

…also I’ll want you to lock the main gate. Phyllis will remind you every week.”

“Okay Pastor, thank you for this oh. I’ll do a very good job,”

I trust you will.” he said. We were watching a football match together in his flat while Phyllis was preparing some food. That was two months ago when he offered me the job.

Pastor had always been a charismatic man. But still, I always felt there was something completely off about him, something overwhelmingly sinister hidden underneath all that charm and charisma. But I ignored it. All I knew was that he was a pastor of the church in the next compound and that he paid handsomely. Why wouldn’t I have worked for him on the side? Plus I needed to get on his good side if I planned on marrying Phyllis.

Although it was never mentioned, I knew I was never supposed to look in through the windows. Not that I could, every single window was covered with thick lace voile curtains and the windows were tightly closed by 7:30, when the night vigil would start.

Pastor Keye is unmarried and I imagine his family in the village sent Phyllis to take care of him. After boiling water for the day, cooking and cleaning, she would go for JAMB(2) lessons two streets from us. She had wanted to go to UNILAG(3); I had regaled her with too many stories of the pretty girls at Moremi Hall that I knew she would soon join.

After winking and pulling my hands, she would close and then lock the door. She was always the last person in. That was my cue to walk towards the green main gate, lock it and walk to our compound through the small side gate. Almost immediately she’d begin to draw the curtains and bolt windows. Loud singing and shuffling feet would follow and usually I would go back to the flat I shared with my friends and get lost in a book. I’d be back by 9:30 to direct people out and then get paid for the night.

***

Exactly one week ago, my curiosity got the best of me. It didn’t feel right; every week without fail his second-­in-­command Joseph would bring in a small child. They never looked a day over 10 years old and always wore dirty clothes. The children never spoke much as if they were either scared, tired or both. Even when I offered them sweets or told jokes, they’d stick to  “thank you” and “Good evening sir”, their eyes crying, in fact, begging for help. Those eyes would haunt me, even now as I tell my story.

And Joseph, I never liked him. He was just like Pastor Keye in a way that you could almost touch the evil inside of him, but he lacked the charisma. Pastor was like the woman in the market who told you her tomatoes were fresh with such a big smile that you believed her too quickly but then you’d get home and realize that all but the first layers of tomatoes were rotten. Joseph was the sullen young girl who helped the woman pick out the tomatoes for you. The children were like fresh tomatoes, stolen from their vines, cut for a big man’s stew.

Good Evening John” he always walked behind the children and never held a conversation with me. It was never more than a greeting, and I’m sure even that was a hassle. It seemed like it took too much effort to form words in his mouth, as if his teeth had locked away his tongue.

Good Evening Pastor Joseph. How was your day?

Good, good. It’s about to be even better.”

That was his reply every week. And every week the child would be gone. I’d look everywhere, peeking into cars just before church­goers left the compound. Maybe the child left in another car but no, gone. In his/her place would be a big black cellophane bag that Joseph carried out of the service. I suppose it was a new one every week but I’m not sure.

I think Phyllis was overstressed that day and when she’s overstressed, she forgets things. Like she forgot to remind me to lock the gate, which I did either way, like she forgot to draw all the curtains completely and bolt all the windows. I watched her and I noticed she didn’t cover one window very well. It was slight but just enough for me to see and hear what was what going on.

I couldn’t help it, I peeked. I walked to the gate like I usually did when I saw Phyllis but instead of leaving as soon as I had locked it, I crept back ever so slightly and watched the service, or should I say ritual…

There I was crouched by the window on the side behind a church­goer’s 20­inch Brazilian weave after the singing and dancing had died down. I heard…Pastor’s voice and a girl’s scream. It was the girl Joseph had brought in earlier, she was naked and begging someone, anyone in the congregation to save her. But they all laughed as she screamed, they all laughed.

At this point she started her extremely futile fight against both Pastors; in less than a minute Joseph had scooped her up and tied her to the exalted table about 5 metres away from the first row. Pastor Keye then used his knife to make a gash on her leg; blood trickled into a purple plastic container that was shifted from under the table just in time to catch most of the blood. There were different sizes of containers, of different colors too and you could tell this had been heavily planned for.

Pastor licked the drops that didn’t make it from the floor as Joseph picked another knife. Soon they began to play with her: a sick, twisted game of who makes the biggest cut. Pastor Keye would make the first cut and slide one of the buckets with his one of legs raised slightly to catch the blood. Joseph would do the same but he would make his cut incrementally wider and deeper all to screams from the girl and laughs from the congregation.

I never thought human beings could be so casually evil to another until I saw it for myself, and such a young one too; I WANTED to help her, believe me, but I just couldn’t. I would die too. I was ashamed that I was such a coward, still am, that I shook so much trying to force my body to do something, anything but it just wouldn’t.

Soon there were cuts all over her little body but she was still alive. She had been heavily mutilated from the very tip of her head to the soles of her feet but not dead yet. They never hit anything major while they played their game. They just enjoyed inflicting suffering and making the poor girl think there was still a chance she wouldn’t die. Sometimes they would stop and pretend as if they were going to release her; Joseph would get close enough to one of the knots on the rope, act as if he would cut the knot then cut her body up instead while she screamed in pain. The hysterical laughter from the congregation would go up another octave with each “prank”.

They got tired of their game once the girl was too weak and had lost too much blood to try and fight. Pastor Keye ended it with quick swipe over her carotid artery; blood shot up like a spring and this time, a bucket wasn’t shifted in time. Pastor was quickly drenched, but he seemed to love playing around in it and was significantly pissed when Joseph pushed him out of the way to put a bucket. This one was significantly larger than the others: easily 5 times higher and two times wider and light green.

Joseph, the ever­ efficient person that he was waited until the spring trickled down into a leak then began to pour the blood from the other containers into this one. Pastor did what pastors do and prayed over the blood. Joseph’s so shall it be’s rang through the hall.

There was a lot of excited whispering going on in the congregation, like the sort that’s anticipating something glorious. After the prayer was done, I saw Pastor pick up a cleaver from underneath the table and he began, I had to look away from the front once I realized what was going on, but yes, he began to chop her up.

You may drink the blood,” Pastor said between laughs and chopping strokes. The congregation erupted in joy while Joseph went through the crowd a hero. He poured the blood into glass cups in the hands of the members to looks of deep gratitude.

20­inch­ Brazilian shuddered in delight once the blood hit the back of her throat while I struggled to hold back my vomit. I was sweating from my disgust, but my curiosity kept me from bolting. What would happen to the body and why was it being chopped up?

Then, I shuddered as I saw Phyllis, my Phyllis. She went up to the altar singing and dancing, using her butcher knife as her tambourine. Clang­clang, just like normal church. She carried a massive, plastic blue­green bucket and proceeded…

“Officer she proceeded to put the girl’s body into the bucket. Piece by piece.” I said. As soon as I had seen Phyllis carry that bucket in the back room and say the food would soon be ready, I had seen enough.

I ran back to my apartment, quickly packed a few shirts into a bag and ran to another friend’s apartment in the other end of Lagos. I refused to tell him the real reason why I was there. I knew I was dealing with a dangerous man and that some of his members were very powerful. I didn’t want him to get involved.

***

I’m sure he knows by now that I know,” I said. Officer Bene didn’t interrupt me once as I told my story and that was surprising. Surely he doesn’t hear stories like this regularly?!

I was seated opposite him in his cramped office in the police station. My conscience has been crying like that girl since last week.

Oh, I’m sure he does and I’m also sure you want protection” he mumbled. I felt like there was a sigh waiting for him behind his throat.

“Yes, Officer. I want him brought down. He cannot continue, the children…”

You couldn’t just have minded your business” he cut me off. “No worries, we usually have younger people but you will do”

He was smiling just like Pastor did when he licked that girl’s blood. Then it hit me, he is one of them! But how? I’d never seen him there before unless….

I immediately jumped off my chair and rushed to the door, but it seemed I was doomed the minute I walked into his office. It had been bolted shut and no matter how hard I shook it, it wouldn’t budge. I began to shout for help, begging the other policemen to

come and help me, but they did not come, of course.  He just laughed and watched as I

struggled and then he began to speak.

There’s no point resisting,” he said. He was now rocking his armchair with his legs propped on the table.

You sealed your fate the minute you peeked through that window” he had gotten off his chair and has started walking towards me. I looked down, sideways, upwards, anything but watch him walk towards me.

I wonder how your meat will taste” he was now right in front of me. I really tried to fight.I

sent a quick punch towards his stomach, but he dodged with almost inhuman speed and put his white handkerchief drenched with some strange liquid over my face. I couldn’t see or breathe as he held it tight.

I kept trying to fight but I think the liquid started working because I was suddenly very dizzy. Soon I was on the ground gasping for air.

This is when he released the handkerchief; I was too weak to fight any longer. That evil smile remained on his face as I struggled to keep my eyes open. At least I tried; there’s no doubt that I will soon be killed but at least I can tell my God that I tried to save his children.

Officer Benemesia

These young ones never mind their business. The job is simple, just park cars, leave and make your money. But no, they just have to look. I should just have killed him when he was in my office, but Pastor wants us to eat him this week. I guess older meat is more…interesting. I haven’t had it in a while.

The last one, what was his name? Malik? Yes, that’s it. I had his eyeball floating in my bowl of pepper soup. He was there for 6 months. Never asked questions, didn’t speak much. He too made the mistake of peeking but then he was stupid, he actually approached Pastor to ask him what he was doing. Pastor was the one who took him out with a swift kick to the stomach. He woke up tied to the pillar in the church backroom, hand­fed once a day by our wonderful Phyllis, led to the stand and slaughtered. The same pillar John is now tied to. His meat was hard and springy, but then he was a skinny man. John is fleshier so I’m expecting something soft and succulent. I kept one of Malik’s finger bones as a memento.

The children Joseph brings are the ones nobody misses. The ones who hawk groundnuts or pure water on the streets or live under bridges. It doesn’t take much to bring them to your side; just the offer of sweets and a gun pointed at their backs when they get too close and they’re yours. We need flesh and blood to sustain us; you cannot understand if you are one of us and I see no point in explaining (don’t ask).

The idiot John is stirring up. It seems I might have to deal with his mouth again. He’s easily one of the longest talkers I’ve ever met.

“Where are we?”

“In the church. It’s 6:30. One hour till you die” Blood tastes better when adrenaline is flowing through it. I can smell it building up and my mouth waters. If only I could have it alllll to myself.

“How?! I never once saw you when I parked cars. ”

“That’s because Phyllis saved my share and many others’ I might add” I say. There are many of us that don’t usually come for the vigil. You may know some of us, politicians, doctors, businessmen and women.”

“There’s a lot of you?”

“Yes. And why not? The blood of the young gives strength.” that’s our mantra actually. I thought it very fitting when I joined 10 years ago. I was younger and hungrier and wanted to reach the pinnacle of my career faster. The blood is simply power.

“Let me finish your story so you know what will happen to you within the hour”

“Usually Phyllis carries the body to this room and chops it up even more, small enough to enter that big pot over there,” I point at the pot with one hand, a knife in the other just in case Mr. Martyr here decides to run again. I’ve been surprisingly talkative, I know, but the idea of new blood gets me more excited than a new case to solve ever could.

“If she can’t cut it easily, she calls Joseph. That rarely happens with children but with an adult like you…” his eyes are widening even more, another rush of delicious adrenaline.

“In the main church, everybody helps clean up while talking about our weeks so far and anticipating Phyllis’s pepper soup,” we are still very much human, just something a little more. Again I cannot explain, but you’re welcome to join us.

John is remarkably quiet; before he was like a gushing tap.It’s because he’s crippled with fear. Hmm, fear gives off a nice taste in blood. It’s lemony with a flowery aftertaste, like wine sent straight from heaven, or hell. Wherever people like us go to.

Just then Phyllis walks in. She has brought her ingredients for her famous pepper soup. Once she sees who it is that we are having this week, she drops to the floor and begins to wail.

“No please not John. Please!” she says between tears. “When Pastor said he was sure you knew, I prayed you’d run away and disappear, but I should have known!”

“It seems like you care about this boy. If only he wasn’t such a good boy, maybe you could have had a future” I am secretly seething. I planned to make her my second wife and Pastor had already given me his blessings. All the more reason why he has to die. I check my watch; oh Glory, it’s time.

“So John, it’s time to get ready to meet your maker” still quiet, not even a word to ‘effervescent’ Phyllis. “Any last thoughts/prayers?”

“Phyllis I would have married you. How can you be doing this?”

“John I have no choice. It’s either I help my uncle or I die too, he would offer me up.” She’s looking at him with something that looks a lot like love. She’s begging for forgiveness with her eyes, but he refuses to even look into them.

“Well, it’s time to go!” I quickly untie him from the pillar and before he has time to even think of running away, cuff his hands and his neck. His neck cuff is a human­sized leash, it’s more fun when they crawl to their deaths.

“Okay boy, let’s go” I draw the leash and kick his legs so he crumples to the floor. “No walking, just crawl”

Phyllis runs to his side and kisses him firm on the lips. “I’m sorry John. I’m sorry we could never be, maybe in the next life”

“Close the door behind us Phyllis. I’ll bring him for you to work your magic” I’m not cruel, I still have feelings. I know she won’t be able to get him with that bowl of hers. She’s about to faint and he’s not even dead yet. She’s still crying and probably mumbling curses in her native language.

I lead him to the stand where Pastor is waiting with his butcher’s knife and apron. He’s always impeccably dressed. Today it’s an off­white Senegalese with green embroidery and Italian slippers.

“You really thought you could bring me down?” Pastor Keye says to John. “Well we usually sing praises to God before feasting but because you’re so important we’ll make exceptions”

“Joseph, Officer, hold him down” John has not said a word. Ever since the kiss he has been deathly stiff, immobile except for my prods and kicks, like he has accepted his fate.

Joseph ties John to the table. Still no struggle, now he has closed his eyes and has begun muttering some strange things. I hope he won’t be like this when they start torturing him. It’s not fun to watch if they don’t act out in pain.

I never get to watch the show these days because I’m too busy but it’s something I’ve missed terribly. I didn’t always enjoy it though; it was hellish my first night. I remember wincing and bursting into tears(yes me, big Asst. Commissioner me, that was 10 years ago though) with each cut Pastor inflicted on that child. That changed once I drank the blood. Something died and another was reborn.

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