My niece is seven years old, when she smiles there are gaps in her gum. Her mind is older than her age. She was telling me how she was in competition with a few of her classmates to remove a loose tooth. How she shook hers relentlessly without tiring. “I mean, I got tired, but I was focused.” She narrates. She went to the sink and pushed it in and out until she felt the taste of metal in her mouth. Then she went to the sofa and pushed it with her tongue till she felt a crack and pushed it still, till it came undone. She was first, she says. I gave her a Hi-five and she beamed before getting into more melodramatic oratory. She’s at the age where she asks everything and talks about everything. When she looks at you her eyes sear into you as if she has x-ray vision and most of the times you’re afraid of what she will say next.
I admire that frankness, that freedom to be open. That childlike honesty, especially now that I have gotten on a path to learn how to confront my problems. Issues that make me want to vamoose or hide. Issues that take all of me to face. The things that taunt me, the ones that stare me down and make me feel uncomfortable. I’m the type of person who talks about everything else beside the problems I have. I will talk about the cups on the shelf and the wilting plant in the corner just to avoid stepping on that live wire of a conversation and in doing so I give it more power than it should have. I’m learning to say the things that bother me, get them out of my chest. Resolve them if they can be resolved and move forward with a lighter heart.
Here are some of the things I am trying to learn. Hopefully with the frankness, openness and honesty of a child:
I’m learning to take the power away from my inner saboteur. I’m learning to remove him from the driver’s seat and put him in the backseat. That person within you who tells you that you’re not good enough. You can’t do it. It’s been done before. You will fail. I’m learning to keep him at arm’s length, to look him square in the face, eyeball-to-eyeball and ask him, “So what if I’m not good enough, I’m getting better. So what if I fail, I’m learning. So what if it’s been done before, it didn’t have my touch. So now?” Most of the time he fizzles away from the challenge because deep down he’s a coward. Like a lot of off-leash neighborhood dogs, he’s all bark but no bite.
I’m learning to let things go. Not to waste my energy on lost causes. Say, you have the hot’s for this girl built like an hourglass with an ass that doesn’t know gravity. She’s always willing to go out with you but she’s on her phone most of the time, laughing at her screen. When she comes over she asks for the charger before she asks how you are doing. Then goes on to speak to you in short, snappy sentences because she’s too engrossed in her gizmo, worse still it’s a Tecno with a cracked screen. I’m learning to let such people go. (Not because they own a Tecno) I’m learning that you can’t force people to see what they’ve got. You can move the Taj Mahal to someone’s doorstep but it won’t mean anything to them if they’re blind to its worth. I’m learning that sometimes she’s only good to look at, not to be with.
I’m learning to ask for help when I need it. I’m learning to put my well-being before my ego. There was a time during the election period when money was really tight. It got to a place where I knew I had to make that phone-call to my dad. My stomach curdled every time I thought about it. I didn’t want to do it, I felt it would speak to my failure as a man. It ate me up. I had this idea that manhood only exists in a vacuum of triumph and progress. I walked around with this tight knot in my chest feeling like I would pass out any minute. We finally spoke. He’s 69. He told me he has had ups and downs in his life. (One of these days we will sit down and talk about this). He said that his life has now gotten to a place where it’s going down and mine is the one that’s climbing up. He said it would be pitiful if he was living this grand life and I was struggling, when he was in a position to help. His words echoed in the room. I didn’t have a reply. I cleaned underneath my left thumbnail with my right forefinger, my face fixed to the floor, at the brown tiles and I saw my folly. Your manhood might shine when you triumph but it doesn’t cheapen because you’re failing.
I’m learning to fight for the people that I know are worth it. Picking up the phone and making that call because I know that the more I stare at it the more I will come up with excuses not to dial it. I hurt a girl recently, a girl I actually like. I felt bad for hurting her. For breaking her heart, for not living up to the man she thinks I am or the man she knows I could be. I knew I had to make that call. Apologize, try to move from it and if we couldn’t move forward at least clear my conscience. I asked myself a lot of questions while I paced across my bedroom. On the wall a drawing of a naked woman that I did after finishing primary school staring down at me, judging me. I wondered if I’m among the people who are not bothered with doing wrong as long as they’re not found out. Is it the fear of being found out that keeps me at arm’s length or the virtue of doing the right thing? I made the call. We’re resolving it. Sometimes the monsters we build only exist in our heads.
I’m learning that growth is not always measured in monetary terms or in accumulating material things. Sometimes it can be measured in well-being. Seeing things differently today than you saw them yesterday. Challenging your problems instead of camouflaging them with an, ‘I’m fine’ face. Saying sorry when you’re wrong, picking up the phone and making that difficult call. Growth is not only getting a bigger check, a better car or a promotion, growth is also looking in the mirror and realizing that yes, you could have done a lot of things differently but you’re proud that you rectified your mistakes, that you got up after you fell.
I’m writing this in the morning. I just got up from my desk wondering if what I have written is any good because writing is a profession littered with apprehension. I wonder if someone will learn something from it. If it will keep someone from giving into a dark cloud by helping them see that what they are actually facing might be a molehill not the mountain they’re imagining or if it will get lost in the bangarang of the web. I put my hands deep in my pockets and walk to the window. The day looks like a frown. I think about my niece, is she pushing out another tooth? Does she have the taste of copper in her mouth because of the blood warming her gums? I look outside at the buildings, at the people running to appointments, at life going on oblivious of my problems. I breathe out. I’m learning not to have a Disney like hope. You don’t always get what you want. You don’t get to live happily ever after but in-between the grapple are bouts of happiness, I breathe in and feel the air nourish my lungs and savor mine.
Parting-shot: I’m working on my second book. It’s called, ‘Show me yours, I show you mine’ (It’s a working title). It’s a collection of memories, written in poetry form but with fiction style. It covers my childhood and my walk to adulthood. I’m on page forty eight. I will finish it around page two hundred, it will probably go past page three hundred after it’s compressed into novel format. I will then sit down with an illustrator and we will work on sketches. If everything ties together it should be out before my 28th birthday.
On The Engagement sequel: It is still in the pot cooking. It needs a lot of research. I need to do quite a bit of digging on the seedy underbelly of drugs and drug abuse. I have shelved it for now but I will pick it up immediately I’m done with the, ‘Show Me Yours’ project. I don’t have a defined timeline for it (yet) but we can cross our fingers for mid to late 2018.
N/B: No Tecno phones were harmed during the penning of this piece, except for one.
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I like to think of myself as a reader who writes, a Pan-African who thinks with the tips of his fingers, but when I’m not molesting the keyboard I’m usually destroying yogurt (not Frusion) or staring into the vastness of space.