Tomorrow to Osato was like a mirage on the highway, never certain or perhaps it was, with failure. Most people woke up each morning doused with a feeling of certainty, a feeling of hope, grappling with bags of long term plans within plots they were not done with or new plots that had to be merged with the old. Osato no longer believed in certainty or making plans, life in all her nuances had schooled him so. When he heard stories of people who kept trying, never giving up, he wondered how they kept on; with trying. He had given up or given in rather. But not like most people who found release and answers in the glassy sheets beneath bridges or in the embrace of nooses. For him, he had accepted life as it was. It’s one thing to try when there’s something to try and when trying has yielded fruits in the past. It’s another to try when your options are restricted or non-existent or when effort’s fruits are always without your reach like playing soccer without a ball or a pitch. He had learnt and understood the bitter part of life’s logic – You won’t fail if you don’t try.
His story wasn’t unlike that of most graduates who leave school and become hunters in the labour jungle, hunters of jobs that elude everyone, or almost everyone except you know a long line of people who know people. And in some instances, the floor requirements for dream jobs kept rolling upwards. In many cases, the deal wasn’t that jobs were scarce; it was that the dream jobs had vanished with wakefulness. Something was however, always available. But “the available” were nightmarish not the dream. After graduation and service, Osato had stopped speaking with most of his colleagues. He had drawn a plan for himself somewhat and he intended on maintaining the distance from his former schoolmates until he succeeded. He had pitched the moment of explosion at three years. Three became four years of joblessness, four became five between nightmarish jobs. And eight years later, he had a stable job at a small time estate management firm as a cashier. He remembered how he would lay the plans out in his head, plots of how he would strive and get a plum job on graduation, make enough money to get himself back into school for his masters and eventually a doctorate – Nothing increases a person’s chances in life as much as years of purposeful fruitful study and degrees under one’s belt. He would wake up every morning in the sunrise years after the university with a dull ache in his heart yet sense an untiring vibration as his heart kept pumping and circulating redness saturated with hope undying; the same way he was sure, old plastic pipes felt. He roved around, chasing contacts, striving, praying and rejecting answers to his prayers he was sure God didn’t send. He used Mama as an inspiration, he used the pride he saw in her eyes on those rare occasions when he would visit home and she would tell who ever cared to listen that her son is a graduate and works in Lagos. He used the sadness he saw in his sisters’ eyes when he would return home sometimes and ask them for money. Anything. To help keep body, spirit and soul till his goose laid him that golden egg. These days he had realized, his goose was a gander after all but at least he now sent something home more than twice a year. Something at least to make them know he was still alive.
On most evenings like this one when he returned to his sparsely furnished one room apartment from work a little after four o’clock, he would make supper for one and settle into the only sofa in his room with a paperback. This evening, he thought awhile, then changed his occupation; switching the book with his phone. He thumbed through the notifications, there weren’t many – two from Facebook and a few from some other apps and his network provider. He opened Facebook and browsed until he saw a suggestion by Facebook – ‘people you may know’. The name was one he couldn’t forget, not in a million years. Denise Okafor. He hesitated a bit, his thumb hovering over the ‘Add friend’ button but his pulse pushed his finger and he sent the request anyway. She accepted his request about twenty minutes later and sent a message “Osy?”.
He smiled when he saw it, his heart bubbling with boyish emotions like tiny fizzy bubbles escaping to the surface of a glass of soft drink. He replied “yes, how are you?” and her response was more like frothy warm champagne-like explosions – lengthy sentences beginning with ‘Oh my God…’, ‘You just vanished…’ and eventually an ‘I am fine’. His heart warmed to this. He remembered how close they were, an intellectual sort of closeness with drizzles of romance at some point he thought… he wasn’t so sure of anything these days. Just eight years and thinking back, he could swear before a merciful deity he imagined it all. They chatted for a while, about people, about life, about things. Then she asked… “Where have you been?” He told her he lived in Lagos. He told her how he moved there from Ibadan years back and he made excuses for shutting out most of the world; how he lost contacts and never got them back.
And then she asked “Well, where are you now?” He was puzzled and partly replicated his previous reply.
“Really? you know what I mean, Osy”. She pushed.
Then it dawned on him. The question ‘where are you now?’ was quite beyond a request for a current location; his. It transcended this in figurative size, mass and poignance. It was a question mark on his dreams, a covert demand for a ‘progress report’. It was a request for a statement on the fruits of his efforts all these years, the rolls on the Royce, the choice houses – a request for a physical testimony of the solid beauty and craftsmanship of his web of dreams. He lost interest in ever reading that evening as his fingers typed, deleted, retyped, edited and deleted again. He tried to cushion everything while telling his story, to say how much he tried and to wave off the question all at once. He was tired of it and the many guises through which it appeared– ‘what do you do now?’, ‘where do you work?’, ‘how is life treating you?’ and sometimes, it came as a statement, jeering in substance and figure, a sarcastic ‘you look good’. He bumped into his old schoolmates sometimes, he stalked some. He saw how good and well they looked. Some were married with beautiful families and a mile up their visions. Or so it seemed. It didn’t matter. He understood it all he was sure, life choose to be cruel to him. It killed him when he saw the mockery and knowing in their eyes anytime he met them on the carriage of chance and he tried to explain some things away.
Finally, exhausted, he gave up and replied a simple “Hanging in there”. He read and reread the messages and his final reply with a tearful redness in his eyes. His eyes read them while his mind mocked him with recordings of those moments when they discussed life after school together on her mattress with their eyes on the ceiling and he would speak his dreams out loud, turning the beam of the invisible projector upwards while she watched the presentation filled with graphs and scales and believed in it; she believed in him. He could see it, in the tiny stars in her eyes that clashed with the uncertain darkness of the future. He believed in the dreams then. He believed everything. But life has a way of waking people up by smacking sand into their teeth and showing them why those things are called ‘dreams’ anyway. He had stopped be-living it.
She didn’t reply and went offline. He felt an unsteady kind of madness take a grip on him. He let it loose on her inbox; he told her everything in no few words. It felt like the final steps of giving up, the last facade he had to deal off to truly and properly sink. When he was done, he tossed the phone and book aside and felt a deathly brand of sadness flow into him; the type that pushed people off Mt. Sanity’s cliff. With it, came the question, which stabbed his heart, and numbed his mind by banging on its doors seeking answers he couldn’t offer twice; tormenting him, clinging to his blankets begging for answers… It mingled with his sweat and the jarring bites of mosquitoes and when he stopped crying inside and his own thoughts knocked him out, it fluttered about his dreams and hung in the air, like breeze tousled drapes in the harmattan…
He was asleep when her reply came… “I think I can help”.
But even in his dreams while battling the questions with crude weapons, he knew why he stopped trying. He knew why he created a comfort zone where he was least comfortable and remained there. He knew why he stopped reaching out to people. Anyone. It was the recurrence of failure; its ubiquitousness. It hounded him everywhere. In the heavy loans he took for businesses that never worked out, in his job hunts and mind when he settled down to think and in the mirror every morning. He hated to see its reflection and mocking laughter in the eyes of people who he once told his grand schemes. He hated the thought of hope. What use was food if it never filled you? What use was hope if it gave you hopelessness?
But somehow, isn’t it what keeps us going? Hope. The thought of waking and knowing that breath equals a fulfillment of anything you will it to, the strength to not stop believing in happiness, in success, in your dreams just because you are awake, for to truly believe, you must never give in to wakefulness. Because to cease believing while living, is to die. Isn’t that another cowardly kind of death? Dying on your feet.
- Caleb Nmeribe #carlflame