…but the powerful memories of Ake Festival, like a good old film, come at me, and I am too weak to fight them off.
TODAY is my first day at work after attending the 2016 Ake Arts and Book Festival. My mind is not here. I move about to distract myself but my mind would not be distracted. It keeps playing back sweet memories from Abeokuta where the festival held. This is not good. We are at a time at work when everyone’s attention is needed. If it is discovered that I am working like a sleepy child, there would be problem.
This struggle happens, I think, after every groundbreaking event. If Jesus touches you at a crusade, for example, and you become saved, for a moment in that open field or church auditorium or wherever else the crusade held, you feel like the world has shifted beneath you, like you are on an evening stroll in a floating bubble. This also happens to those who attend a week-long old boy’s retreat only to find their normal lives to be uninterestingly slow when they return, just as I have found my post-Ake Festival life to be a drab thing.
The festival was my first so I hadn’t been sure of what to expect when I left Abuja for Abeokuta. Had I known that it would be so amazing, maybe I would have prepared for how to live my not-so-amazing life after it. I believe such preparation would have guided me now to live this dull life. But even then, the knowledge of a thing to come doesn’t always prepare one for the reality of its existence.
The heat here in Abuja does not help. Abeokuta hadn’t been this hot. Or have I become a stranger here in the space of a week? Anyway, what I feel is close to what a child feels in an outsize cloth; or a Nigerian in his first winter in Eastern Europe. Nothing quite fits.
When I graduated in 2014—it ought to have been 2013 but a six-month strike happened—I returned home to find it a strange place. Of course I had often spent holidays at home, but this thought that, having now graduated, I was to now spend a few months at home confused me. There were no morning classes to rush to and no late evening classes to annoy me. All of a sudden, the steady bustle of university life gave way to the frustrating quietness of life after graduation. This was hard.
Back at work, I try to fit in nonetheless. I spread papers over my desk, trying to be as productive as possible, but the powerful memories of Ake Festival, like a good old film, come at me, and I am too weak to fight them off. I feel useless, really. I mean, how does one file away memories that won’t be filed away?
It was this same sense of emptiness that filled me the day my National Youth Service year came to an end. I remember it well. My friends had decided to travel that same day. I would travel the next day, I told them. But as I saw them off to the expressway where they were to take a taxi, I remember feeling so sad, less about my friends leaving than about my realization that the excitement of the last one year was now over. With each step that brought us close to the highway, I was reminded that something had changed. It was like watching your body being eaten clean by cancer and not being able to do anything. As the taxi carrying my friends pulled away, I could only wave. My tongue had gained an unusual weight and it lied heavy in my mouth.
I remembered this the morning I left Abeokuta. I had been ready a few minutes before so I lay on the bed and watched my friend pack the last items into his suitcase. I watched him force his toiletries in, complaining of how full the bag was. I think of my suitcase which had more books than clothes and smile. I think of the last few days, how he and I often talked late into the morning, often sleeping after 2 a.m. How we would talk about the remarkable events of each festival day. How I would laugh when he began to complain of his chapped lips. And how we would talk about that big African writer he was not giving a breathing space, or about the other one whose latest book I was meaning to buy even though I was by then broke. By the time he looked up and said ‘ready,’ my heart started to beat so fast.
“This is it, right?” I said, standing up.
“Well…yes. The end. Finally.”
And silence swept through our hotel room.
As we hugged, so tightly it seemed we would not let go, I knew the last few days had been something extraordinary. Being in the commune of writers in particular and creative people in general had ignited something in me. I was not sure I would be able to sustain its glow when I returned to my normal life. As my friend and I rolled our suitcases out of the hotel room, I knew this thing that had happened to me was so great it would take an equally extraordinary event for me not to feel empty when I get back to work.
But it’s only my first day at work after the festival, and I feel like I left my head at home.
About the Author:
Ogbu Godwin Ikechukwu holds a B.A. in English and Literature from the University of Benin. His works have appeared on Brittle Paper, The Kalahari Review, Olisa.tv and Sabinews. He attended the 2016 Ake Festival fiction writing workshop, and he lives in Abuja.