“Does madness run in your veins?” Dr Ogwiji asked Denis. He resisted the urge to say ‘No’ and thought about why a therapist would want to ask him such a question.
“Are you okay, Mr Denis?”
“No,” he replied curtly, pushing back a breath clogging his nostrils with splayed palms.
“Do you wish to talk about it?”
Denis went quiet again. His messed-up head was now rippling like a water current, insanity swam aimlessly like a drowning swimmer. He wasn’t usually this calm. The real Denis would have talked as if his lips were on a marathon, he was now unnecessarily calm because he lacked words, he lacked the linguistic accuracy to name this feeling that always left him awake in the dead of night.
“Mr Denis, can we talk about it?” Dr Ogwiji repeated, expecting Denis to talk, but Denis’ eyes were rolled back in thought, anger was speckled in the films of his eyes like dust.
Countless times, outside the cream-coloured walls of Dr Ogwiji’s office, when he had attempted to talk, to his greatest surprise, words eluded him. And even when the words had finally decided to escape his mouth, they came in monosyllables. Dr Ogwiji lifted both his legs from the ground, and the swivel upholstery rotated, allowing his weight the luxury of being carried around by the chair before he stopped, facing Denis. His lit eyeballs locked into Denis’.
“I want to believe this has gotten a bit out of hand for you to have found your way here, Mr Denis.”
“True or false?”
The first night Denis realized he couldn’t sleep any further, he had woken unexpectedly from a very terrifying dream. The dream was a blurry clip from his past. In it his mother’s blood lay like a flowing river. Her torn wrapper drenched in the river of her blood. A knife was stuck in the part of her stomach where her intestines were ruptured. Blood flowed like a faucet. Maybe it was the flowing blood that he lacked the words to describe, or the surface of the knife smeared in blood. It could be the fact that in this memory, he had seen himself as a smaller figure standing beside his dead mother, another tall shadow towering over him.
“Mr Denis,” Dr Ogwiji’s voice coaxed Denis back to consciousness, causing him to shiver in his wake. “I’m all ears.” Denis shook his head decisively. He clutched the pen resting on top of the folds of white paper. He uncapped it, wiggling it so its blue cap danced before Dr Ogwiji’s glare.
Many lonely nights ago, Denis had found succour in the immaculate whiteness of a blank page, and flowing ink in his hands was a blessing. He had drawn baseless, shapeless figures. His first attempt at drawing produced the head of what looked as gory as a ghost, its clean shaved head and googly eyes with haggard teeth. After spending a considerable amount of time on the drawing, he had become both astonished and frightened at the beast he had wasted his night’s rest on. Out of pure shame, he didn’t show it to anyone. On the next night, he pasted the drawing on a section of the wall in his room, redrawing the head of the ghost on a separate white paper.
Days and nights flew from his grasp. He was an apprentice at a drugstore down the street, so his days were spent ducking his head and dozing off on a desk. His master, a tepid, brown-coloured man in his early 30s, would come and tap him awake and ask, “Are you unwell?” And when Denis nodded, he would nod back and leave him to drop his head again on the table. On the day he discovered literature, it was from a co-apprentice, Peace. She was a petty lady who had a crush on Denis. She was often caught staring at his long back while he slept.
Once, when they were both alone in the shop, she had tapped him awake and asked, “why do you always sleep in the shop?”
Denis wiped his sleepy eyes with the back of his palms and replied, “you no go understand.”
“Tell me, I will understand, “ she pressed.
“I find it difficult to sleep at night,” he admitted.
“What could be the cause?”
“I don’t know.” She riffled through the pages of a book she was reading, engrossed in thought. Denis’ eyes caught the title, a copy of Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone.
The novel made its way into Denis’ room. At nights, instead of yawning carelessly and rolling on the bed hoping for sleep to come, he would read. Other nights when he had nothing to read, he coined words together. Words became interesting to him, he attempted to recreate the stories from one of the novels he had read. His first attempt at writing was a love piece he wrote describing Peace. In reciprocation, she added to the descriptions of herself when she wrote back to him.
Peace is the beautiful almond breeze, coursing through trees in every courtyard.
Peace is the hopeful air that perches around your eyes every evening like sleep, a sleep that would make you sleep sound and wake the next morning, flying and perching like a bird.
There were times Denis thought so long about writing back to her, romantically, telling her that peace had found its way into his life again and that this same peace was now like a log in his mind. But then Peace slipped through his fingers and became something else. After several days of Peace’s absence from the pharmacy shop, Denis called her phone, only to have someone tell him that Peace had died years ago.
Denis wrote about his loss, Peace, the terrific rain coursing through the pool of his mind. He recreated the memory of that evening his father had chased his mother from their sitting room, past the last cushion seat beside an entrance door, past the pillars that formed the L-shaped apartment where they lived, and into their zinc-made kitchen where his father stabbed his mother.
He repainted the series of this event in vivid words as he had envisioned it.
My mother’s blood lay like a flowing river.
Her torn wrapper drenched in the river of her blood;
A knife was stuck in the part of her stomach where her intestines were ruptured.
Blood flowed like a faucet.
After scribbling, he stood up and immediately something left him. He wasn’t sure if it was anger or resentment or even the memories of his past, but he was sure it replaced some other feeling in him. A whistle of air escaped through his nostril, another ounce of air, crisp and fresh, penetrated through the blinds and like peace, greeted him, soothing his lungs with a calmness he hadn’t known for years.