Authenticity and The Social Epidemic of Happiness

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The image of happiness is laughing eyes and tongue sticking out in a picture frame. My mobile camera goes click-click, balanced on a selfie stick held at an angle that flatters the errant jawline of my cheek. Eyebrows on fleek… click. One-eyed wink… click. Kim K’s pout … click. Goofy squint look… click. Two dozen pictures and filtered edits later, instagram is ready for my awesomeness.

The image of happiness is a facebook post; pre-wedding shots overflow feeds boldly captioned ‘save the date’. Wives flaunt husbands. Husbands flaunt wives. Parents share pictures of kids at every stage of their growth in a surprising wave of media parenting.

Yet, the paradox of our existence is with all the happy media frenzy, there are many out there who suffer bouts of depression.

Last month I had an emotional breakdown. I had spent the early hours of my birthday thinking where my life might be headed, and days on social media binging on everyone’s happy story, wondering why my life wasn’t cool enough. And inasmuch as we’re told never to compare our journey with that of other people, we can’t eliminate the lines of our individual existence that crisscross and overlap, nor can we deny its existence. So may be this comparison is a natural response to our shared reality.

I’ve been thinking about this, our social epidemic of happiness. The unicorn moments we love to create for the pages; the frames of laughter we hang on our wall or store in our mobile phones; moments of bliss we are all too happy to share with the world. Then there’s everything else either dialed down they are barely noticeable, or completely tuned off—and that’s the part we wish remains undiscovered.

In her Tedtalk, Brené Brown speaks about the power of vulnerability; the difficulty in letting ourselves be deeply and vulnerably seen by others; our need for connection and erroneous belief that being vulnerable is akin to weakness. We think that to belong means to put up a happy front for everyone… even ourselves. And so we try to numb those feelings, but we cannot selectively numb “[because] when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness… and then we’re miserable.”

So I went through an emotional breakdown and cried and deleted my evil social media apps and shut out all my friends. But the thing is I didn’t feel any better. I still walked around trying to stop my cracks from deepening, and I struggled with it long enough to know my way wouldn’t work until I brought back the evil apps and talked to someone. And that’s exactly what I did. By opening up to someone else, I revealed another part of myself and learned a bit more about them. My feelings weren’t abnormal. My sadness was shared by many others. In my vulnerability I had connected. In connecting I allowed myself more joyful emotions.

Put into perspective, we can begin to appreciate the masterpiece that is Pixar’s Inside Out. Our mantra may be simple: sadness is negative emotion; happiness is positive emotion.  So when the photographer asks us to stare at the camera, he demands a smile before clicking the shutter button, adding to our belief that to immortalize this emotion is better than to do the other. But in truth sadness need not be the opposite of happiness; sometimes it could be another path to happiness.

The most interesting image I have of myself is an ‘accidental’ photo over three years old. Clad in a red tank top, hands clasped beneath jaw and eyes staring down a table, I’m the perfect image of disappointed. It’s still one of my favourite pictures, not just for its authenticity, but because every day it reminds me that we are a ball of emotional energy—not just happy ones, but sad, vulnerable, weak, crazy energy, and it’s okay to share those too.

 

Image: Instagram @Anapuzar

 

One Year Older

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This is in response to the daily prompt Cake. I’m doing this as a free-writing exercising after abandoning us for over two months. Coincidentally this is one day of the year when I’m allowed to eat lots of cake without thinking about calories. Continue reading

Happiness Through The Hour-Glass

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If you had asked me what happiness meant a decade ago, my answer would have read: it’s finally coming home to good food and a warm bed. You see, I was in a boarding school that availed me only the basic luxuries—as basic as they could get. When I posed the same question to a group of friends, answers differed with each person defining happiness as best he could, given the prevailing circumstances of their lives.

I used to think this was a one-definition-fits-all thing; that you could tell people what should give them lasting happiness, and that the sum of one’s feeling would be their dreams, both short and long-term, fulfilled. I may have been wrong.

It explains why a person living in luxury would consider suicide when they can afford everything they ever wanted. Why a mother would kill her own baby if children are God’s gift to man. Why certain people suffer spousal abuse, if the call to marriage is the highest union that two people can find. Why privileged children run away from home, when there are less privileged that would die to have just a bit of their part. Or why some go into crime even when provided for by the State. The paradox is that people want happiness but do not understand why their desires, now fulfilled, leave them feeling hollow still.

The much I’ve come to know is that our personal and collective definition of happiness changes the longer the sands pass though the hour-glass. It was Heraclitus who said that no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he is not the same man. If human character was subject to time and experience, one’s perception of happiness is also subject to the same prevailing influence.

It brings some perspective into this ever elusive definition. In fact I am willing to bet that if I threw open the same question, obvious as the answer(s) may seem, it will take some thoughts to offer one that pleases you.

So I asked myself again: what does happiness mean to me?

Over time it has been so many things, but the passage of time has helped to refine my perception. The more sand has escaped from the hour-glass of my life, the clearer I see through it. Whereas happiness used to mean getting as much as I could within the shortest possible interval; now it is knowing that happiness is not in achievement itself, but in the journey between how soon I want it and when I eventually get it.

Raped Twice

This touched me in so many ways I do not have the courage to explore.
We’ve talked about rape so many times, but we can never talk about it enough.

 

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The Off Key Of Life

Statistics tell us that one in five women in the United States have been raped in their lifetime.

One in five women.

The next time you’re in a room filled with people, take a look around at the women in that room and think about those numbers. Disturbingly, since rape is underreported in this country, that number is higher than statistics indicate.

When I started this blog I wanted it to be a place I could go to and just write what was on my mind. Whether it was funny or serious, it was going to be my place to vent. The Stanford swimmer’s rape trial and verdict that has been in the news recently is so disgustingly obscene that even though I wanted to write something, I couldn’t find my way here to rationally articulate any reasonable thoughts. But I have to say something.

A young unconscious girl was…

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Thinking About The End

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Death comes to all of us—eventually. Unless you’re of the biblical school of thoughts, then maybe you’ll live to see the rapture. Otherwise, death comes and it’s an end we all have to face.

I find the thought of this mortality amusing—I’ve said this before and got called a weirdo, but think about it. If we get to think about where we will like to be in the nearest or farthest future, if we are advised that the most effective way to ensure that we reach our dreams without giving up is to see where it all ends every time, then why shouldn’t we pay attention to our ultimate end which is guaranteed?

Yet people fear death. It’s the reason so many out there want to be immortalized in their children… I think it’s a biological order. Man forms community, chooses a mate and procreate to ensure that his genetic line continues to live long after he is gone. Animals—Lions in particular—kill off the cubs of the former leader of the Pride to ensure his offspring repopulate the feline nation. In life we’re still thinking about living longer than our mortality will allow. It’s like some kind of contingency plan against the inevitable. It’s the reason we feel remorse for one who has passed away, offering respect to the deceased we never knew like we’re appealing to Death to come for us at a much later date.

But death shouldn’t be something we dread; on the contrary we should encourage active discussions. And by discussion I don’t mean talking about it when we’re old and tired of this world; I mean thinking and talking it when we have everything to live for. We should take living everyday like it’s our last quite literally. We should even discuss the various means by which we could leave this world—as dreadful as some of it might seem. But most important, we need to think of the people we will leave behind and our legacy when it’s over… whenever it’s over.

A week ago I woke up to news of the death of a vibrant young man who allegedly slipped in the bath and died. I am privileged to have worked with him in the past and if there was something I loved, it was his jovial nature. The news got out and there was nothing but love from those who knew or were opportune to have read something he’d shared. I spent the rest of the day thinking of what will happen if people learn of my death. You should think that, too. Hopefully you do. Then I asked my sister what would happen if we both knew I’d die that night and she said, “We’ll spend the night awake; no sleeping for you.”

So there are a number of reasons for our fear of the inevitable. We fear the life we’ll have when the people we love are gone; we fear the life they will have when we are gone; we fear we will never be the person we want to be if we die now. We fear we haven’t lived enough. But we don’t have to be afraid, or death has the upper hand. We just have to embrace the truth of our very finite existence so it takes away the element of surprise.

How?
Think of the end. Talk about the end with people you love. Live well. Leave good. Perhaps this is a better contingency plan.

On First Impressions and Seconds

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Do first impressions matter?

A week ago I was walking home from work, down a busy Lagos street, exhausted and barely keeping the adrenaline pumping when I stopped to buy bread. Bread because I don’t know how I’ll survive in my house without it for a whole weekend.

The woman was rude. That was my first impression. She spoke like I was interrupting something and shot daggers when I tried inspecting the bread. I asked if they were fresh. Yes. They all say yes, but you ask anyway hoping someone will say it’s a day old. Or two. Or maybe a week. But asking buys you time to block out the rest of your senses and use just the nose. If you’re lucky the pleasant aroma of freshly baked bread will fill them in no time.

She looked irritated by my presence and I regretted stopping in the first place. Naturally I’d walk away, but I didn’t. I stayed, allowing our mutual irritations overlap. For a moment I wondered how she managed to keep any customers at all.

Three days later I walked past the same stall and heard someone call out. When I turned it was the bread seller, waving and asking if I wanted to buy more bread. I’m not sure if I succeeded in hiding my surprise, but even before thinking I could feel my lips returning the smile. This thing betrays my emotions.

The next day I stopped over to buy bread. She called me her friend or something like that. I don’t mind, I’ve been called many things by women ranging from darling to sweetheart to love and my baby. It’s all the same to me.

Everyday I walk past my eyes do a quick search for her. We lock gaze. Smile. And communicate a silent good night. Yesterday I stopped to buy bread. Two? Yes, two. She remembers I bought two loaves the first time. She remembers the brand I like. I don’t even inspect it. Don’t take too long to eat this one. I nod.

I’m surprised she recalled my face since we met on a dark road illuminated by candles from other traders. Maybe I have one of those faces you don’t forget; maybe I look like one of those customers you know will always come back.

Should first impressions matter?

I don’t know. I met a bread seller who was rude the first time, I was sure I never wanted to do business with her again. A week later and we’re exchanging secret smiles. There are many things that could have been wrong that day. She could have had a bad day, and yet all I could think of was how I deserved a nice, cheerful person serving me… even when I wasn’t feeling so cheerful myself.

What does that make me?

I don’t know. But I hope that someone out there will be more generous with a second impression of me.

What Came Before?

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Incidentally, in a conversation just a little while ago I had to explore some history to try to reach some clear understanding of a cultural matter. The culture of people are a practical demonstration of their identity. A loss of their cultural history often results in the kind of vulnerability that we witness in Africa today: a vulnerability that shows itself in our embarrassing efforts to acquire and display foreign accents, in our dash to buy all things Western, in our speed to bad-mouth Nigerian ways and things. It is easy to sell any narrative about Nigeria to Nigerians today especially because we have no idea what we once were and where we once headed. We are like sheep without shepherd without our history.

In a personal experience I saw another side to this issue. History may not be lost but it may be so painful that you wish that it was. Every time you come up against it you want to avert your eyes and pray that by the time you look up it would have dissolved like mist before the rising sun. And yet without facing that history squarely and bravely but intelligently dissecting it, that fear that it always inspires will be the baggage you carry everywhere with you.

My secondary school and university days carry their share of history. I can often hold my own when embarrassment comes at me in public. I don’t know where I picked up the skill but I actually know how to take an embarrassing moment and make it a memorable one. Or at least I used to. But memories are a whole other bucket of fish. Sometimes you remember and shudder at what you did and hope nobody else does. History may be embarrassing.

How we understand the past is the most important element determining the future — James Carrol

But without history, how can we know our own selves and plot a course for the future? What you do not face squarely and clearly sort through is likely to haunt you into repeating the same mistakes. History says a lot about who we are. As a matter of fact, without it, we are ships adrift on the sea. We need it to guide our paths into the future.

The question “who am I?” begins its answer in “what came before?” History may be scary; it may be embarrassing or it may be unknown but it should never be ignored. Discovering it is key to discovering ourselves, understanding it is key to understanding the decisions we have to make and the paths open to us. Owning it takes the power of definition away from possibly malevolent or dubious elements and gives it back to us.

 

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Odii is an entrepreneur. Figuring life out and sharing his discoveries is business he enjoys doing. You can find him @ Panorama

731 Days of Writing and Community

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I began this blog two years ago in a hotel room far from home, filled with questions of my worth. It wasn’t a very happy day, but then, my life was not particularly cheerful to begin with. There were times when I cried so much I wondered if the flow would ever stop, and there were days when between a quick smile and laughter I’d say to myself, who are you deceiving?

Who was I deceiving? Nobody. It was my subconscious indicating its need for expression. So when an old friend sent me a link to her blog, I thought to myself, I can do this too. And I did. My first month, in hindsight, turned out a summary of my persona, since the things I wrote about reflected my interests in culture, relationship (with others) and emotions. The second month in a nutshell: identity crisis.

I love that writing can express oneself, thoughts, emotions and interests. It didn’t seem quite appealing on the first trial and there were times I thought to quit this blog and move on… but I didn’t. Two years after I am still here. Writing. Sharing. Relating. With you. Because you let me. With every view, like, comment and share, you tell me you’re here and I am not alone. So that young woman who faced an identity crisis no longer exists and in her place is one eager to discover more about herself and this community.

The benefits that have accrued cannot be quantified. I’ve been more attentive to the world around, not just walking through it. I’ve listened to strangers, not only because they provide fodder for the next post (which is totally great), but because I understand what community means a lot better—it’s experiencing one another.

So this is me saying THANK YOU for walking and running with me. For teaching and helping satisfy that primal urge for communication. And most importantly for being you, because by so doing you let me keep being myself. Right here.

Intricate

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It took staring at a leafless tree for days and struggling to still my hands from reaching for a camera to come to this; to realize how monotonous life is when we allow it. Wake up. Eat. Work. Sleep. And perhaps pull out our cameras and take a shot ever so often. It’s not difficult to see how one can remain absolutely clueless about the world and the delicate beauty it harbors.

Few days ago I conversed with a friend. We talked about the special things that make us tick—mine were books and photography—and then about joy, sadness and emotions. At the time I felt what it could be like to exist in a space without experiencing it. It’s a lot like catching a nice view and jumping in just in time to take a picture, before the moment passes. That is the power of photography: the ability to freeze time, as good as elemental power can get for us, until you take a closer look at your picture and a whole new wonder explodes—like that Dragonfly. I always thought it ordinary till I took note of the light play on its wings.

“My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.”  Psalm 139:15

I think of humans like that, artistically formed. We are the wonders of creation with our diverse characters and emotions. There are seasons to life, every emotion carefully woven in the fabric of time. Our feelings of joy and sadness are each a part of who we are, so that we are a bit more appreciative of the moments in our lives. To know that our highs and lows are not just symbols of our strengths and failures; they are also testament to the intricacy of the human soul. It’s great to know that we are alike and yet so different, and it will always be a wonder plying one road to discover the depths of a single being; to move past this monotony and experience life, not exist in it.

I learned a good photographer is one able to tell a story with a picture and infuse his essence into the frame. I’m not that kind of hobbyist yet, but I hope to get there someday. Likewise I believe this also forms the basis of our humanity: our ability to see past the visible darkness and confidently step into the lives of others. I’m not that kind of human either, but hope to find the courage someday to hear your stories.

Don’t Buy Her A Gift…

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According to the movies and stories passed down over the decades, courtship in Africa, specifically Nigeria was rather a funny and awkward exercise; one that still influences how relationships pan out in present day society. In those days when a man became of age and his elders deemed it time for him to get married, he would be ‘let loose’ on the community to scout for a suitable maiden to wife.

Now, what made a maiden suitable you ask?

  • A broadened hip believed to make childbirth easier and also strong enough to ‘back’ the child when it cries.
  • An ample bosom to nurse a child.
  • A thin waist line to showcase an hourglass figure (they loved their amazons)
  • A good stock line to ensure children had no evil traits likely to rear up its ugly head.
  • And let’s not forget, the gift of preparing and serving meals in a manner that would rival Nigella Lawson.
  • Throw in a pretty face and the said scout had reached utopia.

Basically, he went about the process with the mannerism of a prospective buyer at a cattle market. And when our scout spots the right maiden does he personally take her a gift or try to interact with her? No. He interacts extensively with her family, including distant relatives, but rarely spends any quality time getting to know her as a person.  He bestows gifts on her parents, her relatives as a token of his interest. Any gift that makes it to the bride is delivered by a relative, not directly by our scout.

The maiden is seen as something you acquired after making a reasonable offer by way of a gift. There was no need to appeal to her emotions; it was more or less a business transaction.

Fast forward to present day society, not much has changed. Man still hasn’t mastered the act of gift giving without strings as a sign of intimacy and friendship.

Our modern day checklist will look something like this:

  • Does she have a job, is she hard-working?
  • Is she devoid of illness (this includes her bloodlines)?
  • Is she well known in the community? Hmm, this might be a sign that she flirts.
  • Is she prayerful? I have gathered a lot of demons and I need a stand by the exorcist.

And the list continues.

History has made it almost impossible for men to approach gift giving from any other angle other than as an investment that indirectly benefits him.

He gave gifts to her father, he got her. Business deal sealed and delivered.

However, today the woman has a choice and sadly that has thrown a spanner in the investment wheel of many scouts. Some have invested and lost heavily; some have played cautiously and still ended up cheated.

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I know some of you are thinking, but we should invest in the ones we love. Absolutely true, however, investments are expected to yield returns; gifts are designed to please the recipient. A gift performs well under the atmosphere of love; selfishness on either side turns a gift into an investment tool for manipulation. Expecting to receive sexual favours or commitments because you gave a gift is totally opposed to the true meaning of gift giving.

 Most people give gifts to children simply to make them smile; to let them know you thought of them and you love them. If the lady in your life does not stir your feelings on gift giving the way a child would then I don’t think you should be together. Begrudging your partner a gift for any other reason other than you can’t afford or it feels inappropriate at the moment, is an indication that you evaluate your relationships based on what you expect in return from it.

Gift: something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation.

Don’t buy her a gift this valentine because you see her as a potential ‘cow’ or ‘investment’ ready to yield an emotional, physical or spiritual bounty. Buy her a gift because she’s the girl who makes the sun feel brighter when she looks at you. Buy her a gift because your relationship is worth investing everything good into including gifts. Buy her a gift because you love her and respect her needs as a person.

Funny thing is when a girl senses she has your heart the benefits just keep giving ♥

 


 

Chioma is an avid reader and a non-biased writer. She writes to explore and change outlooks to life, while mothering and maintaining balance wherever she calls home. Visit her blogLifehomeandaway

Reconstructing Yesterday

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It’s another season of resolutions. I love resolutions; I love that January  can be a marker, a month we set aside to take stock of our yesterdays and make better plans for our tomorrows.

A year ago I decided to take time to know my God better. It could have won the award for the shortest new year resolution list ever, but the effect of that single decision still ripples today. I’ve since learned it’s not how much you intend to achieve in a year that matters, but the quality of that achievement.

Just before the remodeling of our house commenced my dad and I talked about wisdom. The ease with which we make decisions based on current trends, and what’s acceptable today, but years after we are done reveling in the attention, we see the folly of our past choices and spend money and energy to correct the damages.

I sit in my bedroom and stare at the fresh cracks in my ceiling board. There are giant stones on my corridor and the parents have since relocated to another bedroom in the east wing of the house. Our living room is in terrible condition. The aluminum roofing sheets are totally gone and every morning I am jolted out of sleep by the slap of mallet on concrete above my head. There’s no telling when the ceiling boards will finally give way and cave in on me. The entire experience is frustrating. Yet there are nights when I stumble my way through the corridor to the living room, look overhead and have a perfect view of stars twinkling in the night sky. And I think that perhaps the remodeling process isn’t so bad after all.

There are two things this tells me:
One is that a new year resolution does not necessarily mark the close of a chapter or the beginning of a new one. Like a remodelling project, it can be a moment in time when we choose to retrace our steps and reconstruct.

Two, there will be clutters and times within the year when this new project seems like too much of a burden. It helps to remember why we’ve embarked on that journey in the first place and the quality of life we will have when it’s over.

Whether we are on a course to reconstruct yesterday, remodel, or simply taking more giant steps on the path we’ve been all along, I hope that when it seems like chaos is all there is we remember to look above and see the stars.

At Christmas

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A man is at his finest towards the finish of the year;
He is almost what he should be when the Christmas season’s here;
Then he’s thinking more of others than he’s thought the months before,
And the laughter of his children is a joy worth toiling for.

He is less a selfish creature than at any other time;
When the Christmas spirit rules him he comes close to the sublime.
When it’s Christmas man is bigger and is better in his part;
He is keener for the service that is prompted by the heart.

All the petty thoughts and narrow seem to vanish for awhile
And the true reward he’s seeking is the glory of a smile.
Then for others he is toiling and somehow it seems to me
That at Christmas, he is almost what God wanted him to be.

If I had to paint a picture of a man I think I’d wait
Till he’d fought his selfish battles and had put aside his hate.
I’d not catch him at his labors when his thoughts are all of pelf,
On the long days and the dreary when he’s striving for himself.

I’d not take him when he’s sneering, when he’s scornful or depressed,
But I’d look for him at Christmas when he’s shining at his best.
Man is ever in a struggle and he’s oft misunderstood;
There are days the worst that’s in him is the master of the good,

But at Christmas, kindness rules him and he puts himself aside
And his petty hates are vanquished and his heart is opened wide.
Oh, I don’t know how to say it, but somehow it seems to me
That at Christmas, man is almost what God sent him here to be

. ~Edgar Albert Guest

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I find a lot of truth to this poem. And I pray that the spirit of this season carries all of us into the new year and always.

Merry Christmas.
Shine on🙂

Christmas Blues

 

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I woke up today, walked outside and sniffed the air. It was there: Christmas. I could smell it in the cold, dry wind that signaled the beginning of the harmattan. It was there in the dust that twirled in the air; in this incredible heat from an angry sun, ever less often punctuated by rain. Rain in November was crazy– if anyone knows the seasons in Nigeria you know there should be none of that past October. But Lagos is the city cushioned by the Atlantic. We get rain whenever and harmattan only when it wins the battle of seasons. Yet there’s Christmas. I heard my first jingle yesterday: Jingle Bells, odd song to sing without snow or sleighs. But the season transcends international boundaries and brings with it a spirit of oneness. I can pretend the mist outside my window, sneaking in beneath glass panes isn’t trying to dry out the oil on my skin or dissipate the next hour, leaving in its wake chapped lips. I can pretend its snow like all the Christmas movies I’ve seen.

Soon corporate buildings will light up with decorations welcoming clients and customers with some cheer. The shops will advertise hampers filled with regular everyday items, strung together with red and green bows. And yes, I get to close work in a few weeks and run home—home could be the village back East with the rest of the family, sucking on marrows from goat meat pepper soup, or it could be here in Lagos, enjoying the road without traffic congestion and the freshest air you can breathe for a while.

For the first time all the stress and heartache of this year suddenly melts away. The moments of joy I’ve experienced seems like nothing compared to what is coming ahead. I finally get what the Apostle meant when he said leaving behind the past and striving for what’s ahead. There is no certainty what’s ahead, but somehow there is no fear of tomorrow—just hope. Lots of hope and a joy that cannot be explained

It’s amazing what one month can do. If we could take half the cheer of December and distribute to gloomier months—like October or May—there’d be so much left. I think though that December’s cheer lies in the knowledge of the end of a season and hopefully the beginning of a new one. The anticipation of meeting loved ones again. Perhaps the added joy that comes from bringing happiness to others. And there’s Christ—the birth of hope to a world filled with sadness. It’s a good time to remember what the 25th means for Christians all over the world.

Christmas will come whether there is heat, cold or rain. It is ironical though that a season of birth and life will be heralded by another season of dying plants. But who cares? Death hasn’t been more appealing knowing that when it’s past, new life will bloom again. I think it will be nice to forget what day it is for the rest of the month and watch it glide by gracefully.

May your lives be filled with all the cheer December brings.

Shadows

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It was a starless night. The wind howled like a lone wolf outside and the little filtered by the mosquito net barring the window carried the promise of a heavy downpour. We gathered inside the tiny room housing two of us as was our ritual, were we would talk about everything and nothing in particular. A candle stood regally upon the study table, casting its warm glow upon the room and beside it sat a Bible in its divine glory, one of the most show-cased and least opened books.

They said I never say much. I smiled. As always there was little to say. We were but different people brought together by providence. They talked about study, boys, family, religion, food, sex, love. I smiled and laughed on cue, all the time thinking of how much we had changed.

Yes, there was always so much to talk about. The conversation went on around me, one minute building into a crescendo, followed by a barrage of laughter and the next, a sound no louder than a whisper.

I looked to my right and sniffed the air again, rain. Then a muffled sound snapped me out of my reverie. I held my breath as my heart raced and adrenaline pumped into my muscles numbed from sitting Buddha style. Something was out there. The conversation went on, and into fear grappled mind words finally began to filter through: slut…not so beautiful…poorly dressed…likes men…sleeps…lecturers…

I shook my head to clear my mind and turned back to my companions. Lightening flashed and from the corner of my eyes I caught a glimpse of a silhouette huddled behind the door.

Few minutes after the door opened and she strutted into the room. A quick glance at her downcast eyes confirmed my already budding suspicion. She’d been listening. I glanced at my companions who moments ago struck by dumbness, so artfully recovered and now launched into new horizons like they weren’t moments ago gossiping about our once absent friend. She flopped on the mattress and joined in the conversation, her sentences so often punctuated by childlike laughter.

I wondered at humans– the length we would go to make ourselves feel better. How easy it was to misunderstand others simply because they lived different lives from ours, or at least what we are used to having around us. Why it was so easy to forgive a child for being too trusting, looking at the world like a playground, and choosing to see only the inherent good in others; while with adults we brand them honorary titles like slut. But do we really grow out of our childish nature or does our shell just grow bigger? Do we don new clothes, fresh masks every day, live like society dictates and find a drug for our unhappiness and frustration? We carry bibles; hide behind religion or whatever else makes us feel good, pretending to be upright, but inside we are simply a bitter lot, people very much unsatisfied with life, hoping for redemption.

Behind each girl was a story– experiences, mistakes, choices, life. I saw dreams that could best be likened to fairy tales woven in the web of time and left to gather dust because of fear– fear of society, and fear of the unknown. But she was different, brave. So much had changed around her but she seemed untouched. She’d wrapped her past around her but was never deterred by it. She was life. She was like the candle: tall, regal, warm and full of light.

The flame flickered, casting a shadow. Its light shifting, changing, and then it was back to normal.

From across the room our eyes met and held. She regarded me briefly and I read the unspoken questions in them. I burned in shame. Then slowly her lips curved into a smile and I knew all was forgiven.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

I wrote this a year ago (June 2014) and since my brain is slightly short-circuited right now, I figured it worth digging up stuff from my archive. This was one of my earlier attempts writing something that looked like a story,🙂 I can’t tell if I succeeded or not so you can be the judge.

See you around.

Your Story Doesn’t Count

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His was the only familiar face as I stepped into the bus. I made my way to his side—more leg space I told myself, but it was curiosity that propelled my feet. Then I spent the next minute stealing glances, willing my mind to connect the dots three weeks old.

We’d moved only ten minutes when he switched from the movie he’d been watching to hit up his friend on a social media channel. My waning curiosity piqued, searching for answers that eluded my mind.
Remember that babe I told you about that ran away with my money?
—Eh, you see am?
She’s beside me. She was looking at me when she came in like she couldn’t recognize me.
—Lol. Remind am na.
No. Leave am.
—If na me I go talk. I wan chop too.
No, it doesn’t matter.

My heart sank. This is the reason we must never eavesdrop on people’s conversations. I picked up my phone and told my friend what had happened, calling the young man beside me a jerk for his action. I could hear his laugh in my head.

It had been a mistake. Three weeks ago some driver with a temper gave four of us money to split among ourselves because he couldn’t be bothered to find loose change. That was difficult. I had custody of a boy’s change—a meager sum considering, but no less his. We spent the first few minutes looking for a means to split the money without succeeding because buses were going in different directions. Buses going my way were scarce, so as soon as one pulled over I was eager to jump in and get to work looking for change from other passengers. I succeeded. But when I looked out the window for my companions not one of them was in sight. When they eventually showed up, my call for attention was drowned by honking vehicles and the driver was already on his way.

Three weeks later I was beside one of them without a clue if he was the gentleman owed money or just one of the others. I contemplated raising it up and asking. It seemed awkward– for me. I figured I could pay his fare anyway and get the debt out of my system. But what if the real owner of the money meets me tomorrow? The stolen conversation set me straight, infuriated me, embarrassment burned my cheek. I turned to him willing myself to break the ice.

What’s the name of your movie?

He responded and asked if I wanted it. I nodded in the affirmative. We spent the rest of the journey pairing devices over Bluetooth, losing connection, sharing hotspot (his), searching for a quicker means to give me a movie I was half interested in watching. I watched him with curious eyes as he held my Tablet.

The driver requested for our money. I stilled his hand as it reached for his wallet.

Let me pay.

I didn’t think he was going to let me, so I pulled out twice the fare and handed it over to the collector. I glanced at my feet. Had he said thank you? Was that a smirk on his face when I touched his hand? Did he think I paid out of guilt or perhaps as payment for sharing his mobile data? Did he really believe I ran off with his money? Would he have thought that if I were a man? Was he simply a decent guy or living out the biblical mandate: pay back evil with good?

Was I over thinking this?

My eyes wandered to him again. He’d abandoned his movie and was trying to download a heavy file on my Tablet that would allow him send the movie faster—with his mobile data. None of this made any sense. He was a jerk, right? Why would he do any of this after obviously gloating to his friend an hour ago? A part of me wondered if he intended to run away with my Tablet when we arrive at our destination as revenge.

Finally the bus stopped and the passengers alighted. I got my Tablet back as we got off too. He asked for my destination and I responded. We stood in silence. My bus came, I turned to him, said goodbye with a half-smile. He smiled back.

Neither of us knew the other’s name. Neither asked what had happened that day. No story volunteered. It didn’t matter anyway. We each formed our opinions.