Your friends are suddenly too far away, your family even farther. You feel a loneliness that gnaws, a disconnection from the things you used to love terribly, hopelessly. Reading is no longer magical, and you wonder if there was ever a time when you had read everything you could find—Daniel Dafoe, John Grisham, Wole Soyinka, Achebe, Shakespeare—or if it has always been a version of yourself that you imagined. You carry books, too many of them, with you wherever you go; your schoolbag sags, the weight making your shoulders slouch. You well know that you won’t read those books. Recently, a sentence that stretches for pages and pages—for that is what you think a novel is, a sentence that stretches on, after all that is how they used to come to you, your stories, as a single sentence that brings with it so many others—exhausts you. You begin to read, but you don’t finish. You feel vague. And, because writing demands some sort of communion with other written words, writing becomes difficult, impossible.
If you wrote in a story that “Arinze felt adrift,” an editor would say, “Adrift is vague. Show it.” You wonder, now that you feel a certain languor in your fingers, a certain slowness in your head, if you, at ten, would have thought adrift too vague. You’re not sure. You’ve always been a dreamer, and so you would have thought of it in imagery, adrift: Arinze floats in the air, weightless, and his head is full of water. It is a sensation you have begun to feel too often, alongside a deep sadness. It means that you re-read parts of Americanah, and cry, you don’t know why. There is a part of yourself you miss, a part of yourself that you feel slipping away.
You think: It’s my room. It’s school. It’s this town. This damn country!
You need to run away. But you suspect, at some deep level, that you will simply carry this vagueness with you wherever you go.
To feel is to be alive. You acknowledge, with the taste of too much salt in your mouth, that your friend who is dead cannot feel this thing that you feel. But once upon a time he did. You remember those lazy days you spent talking about university, what you would become, the places you would go. “I will not get married,” you had said to him, and he’d laughed and said, “You’re just talking.” He would have two children—maybe he had said four, you can’t remember. There are many things about him that you no longer remember, and it hasn’t been too long since he died. When you wrote, about Mma, “We carry you with us wherever we go,” you had stopped believing in God, had channeled your thought of an eternity to Memory. Now that you feel adrift, you remember things, forget others. You crumple on the floor like paper and cry. Memory is not enough, you think. Memory fades.
You miss God, that feeling of being cushioned by so many soft pillows.
For more than four months you have carried a condom in your bag. The other day a neighbour who struts around shoulder-high whenever a girl visits him, who says things like, “She been dey form, but now I done do am,” saw the condom and laughed at you in the paddy-paddy way that straight men do when they congratulate someone for being a ‘coded’ guy. He does not know that for so long you have carried that single piece around with you, for too long. Whenever it rains and you look out of the window, Nsukka draped in a watery cosiness, like safety, like love, you think, weather for two, smile bleakly. You are twenty, and you are neither getting enough love nor enough sex. You wonder where you will be at forty: alone, perhaps, bent over your table re-reading Edwin Morgan, trying to write the love that you dream of, but failing.
This morning, while you are in the bathroom contemplating this essay, a grasshopper the size of your index and middle fingers put together and the mildew colour of the bathroom floor, hops in from the bushes behind, perches on the floor very close to the wall going green with algae. For a moment, you watch it, full of affection for something so unaware of your ability to feel. You pour water on your body, and next you know it has hopped closely to your feet, too closely. You are suddenly aware of how small the bathroom is, almost claustrophobic, and of how monstrously big the grasshopper is. You squash it with your right foot, kick it down the drain and, as you watch it disappear in a balloon of sudsy water, you think how erratically emotions can morph, how quickly feelings as tender as love can turn murderous.
There was once a time when you felt infinite: you are walking down Weather Head at night from choir practice, the darkness punctuated here and there by yellow lights, and you are humming Bach, conducting an orchestra in your head. One day, you will write a great novel and conduct an orchestra. Right now, this very moment when you cannot read any other book but Americanah, when all you listen to are really sad songs that make you want to cry, you’re so sure that you won’t do either.
To be alive is to inhabit a state (of being). A now-ness. You feel… sad, happy, lonely. Terribly lonely.
About the Author:
Arinze Ifeakandu won an Emerging Writer Fellowship from A Public Space magazine. His story, “God’s Children Are Little Broken Things,” was published last year by the magazine and was included in Brittle Paper‘s “The Best 31 Pieces of 2016” list. He was a finalist for the 2015 BN Poetry Award. He graduated from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka where he edited the university literary journal The Muse. “What It Means to Feel Adrift” was written and first published in June, 2015 in The Muse.