Bittersweet another word for life
by Mobayode Akinsolu
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Bittersweet…another word for life.
Growing up with two brothers who viewed life from varying perspectives wasn’t as spicy as variety made life to be. Needless to say, I didn’t understand my brothers neither did they understand me. My parents were both exceptionally intelligent and they shared a demeanor that I did not quite fathom. This I believe was what led to my interest in English vocabularies. Their arguments were always technically managed with a wide use of accented English registers based on the issue to be resolved. Though I was never a part of any such arguments, I eavesdropped more times than I could recollect as a curious child. I never believed in anything else but myself. However, my father’s theosophical view of life left me more thoughtful about life than I need be for my age while I was growing up. My mother was a hard worker with little returns initially. Then her calves turned into bulls and she no longer was the big fish in a small pond. But before things turned around for her, I often questioned the everyday nudge to be a hardworking student by my teachers.
I can’t tell how many times I cried as a child but I knew the places where I found shelter most times I did. Kneeling by the bathtub; under the scorching heat of the noonday sun and standing by the rusty swing in the backyard; on the too soft mattress with a prickly multicolored sheet covering my face. More times than I can remember, I cried my eyes red and I found no deep consolation whatsoever. On rare occasions, my father would pacify me and I’m sure this gave him the opinion that I was girlish. My brothers intimidated me and their lies made me sick. “Look up to your elder brother and never look down on your younger brother”, these words keep ringing in my ears like a chant in a nightmare I was bound not to wake up from. My parents were good people and they provided us with all that money could afford. But their acquisition of a king-sized mattress for three sons was an aberration to the best of my little knowledge.
While my two brothers slept at the two extremes of the bed, I usually lie in the middle. Though I had much fun with my brothers on the king-sized mattress during the day, my nights became dramatic and traumatic after the behemoth walked through the door of our family. In the middle of the night and at varying intervals, my brothers would kick at me at various angles and in various ways in their drowsiness. They snored at an alternating rising and falling sequence. My elder brother sounded deep and haphazard but my younger brother made a thin and excruciating sound that echoed throughout the night. Every night on that mattress, I was compelled to listen to a duo rendering an endless cacophonous audition.
Our house had a black facial board. The walls were painted in white emulsion just like every other house I was opportune to visit in the government estate I grew up in. The roads were tarred and the grasses were cut more often than I could recall. The flowers were trimmed and the dustbins were emptied at regular intervals. The water supply was adequate and electricity was as stable as we needed it to be. It was like the Nigerian dream and indeed it was, until we relocated to the interior of the town after my dad stopped working for the government. Though life at the government estate was better owing to the availability of social amenities, I preferred the new house and home. This was so because I had a room to myself in my father’s newly built detached bungalow.
I never really had a firm grip of what and who I was. Nonetheless, I kept growing. Days, weeks, years, it kept counting on and on. Before I could lace my first pair of size forty-five Italian leather shoes, I was well over eighteen years of age. I had everything I needed but yet, I knew something was missing. Though I couldn’t say substantially what it was, I knew there was a lacuna. As an Electrical Engineering student, I chose to embrace Theology and Philosophy while in the University. I did this with a little hope that the knowledge of these two subjects of life would answer all the puzzling questions on my inquisitive mind. To my astonishment, the knowledge of Theology and Philosophy posed more questions than answers about life. I could not state categorically that my problems escalated after gaining more knowledge but their horizons and scope did.
I was like a lost child who needed to find a way home; a bird with a broken wing struggling to fly. Through it all, one could conclude that I was quite intelligent for there was hardly any core subject that I didn’t understand. But I found it hard to deduce what life was designed for and ultimately why I had a life. Too many people say family is the one thing that gives the basic definition of life but as for me, ‘family’ left me more confused than I could ever be. At home with my parents and my brothers, I was the round peg in a square hole. I never fitted in. If I didn’t know better, I could have easily concluded that I was an adopted child. My family loved to be in the living room talking and cracking jokes but I loved to be in my room reading and writing. To my family, I was the introvert who had good grades in school and led the family morning devotions unaided.
It made me sick that no one in my immediate family could look through me to see another perspective of me. When I had obtained my bachelor’s degree, they all called me ‘engineer’, unofficially of course. I didn’t like the idea, albeit, I sensed that it gave them an inner satisfaction of making a meaning out of my life. Obviously, I had studied Engineering for five or more years and I had certificates to show for it but, there was more to me than those years of studying and all that Engineering could ever teach and forge. I had desires and longings.
Having had a good life, I craved for better things and if possible the best. I needed a base of trust and place of solace to escape from my solitude and lonesomeness. So in the wake of my final days in the University, I started to carry out a research to this end, ‘The Keys to Ecstasy’. I read books and asked questions. I met with professors, bishops and golden agers. I discussed with friends and sought many varying opinions about life. To my utmost surprise, every man’s story was a huge part of his philosophy. Then I asked myself what my story was. I discovered that I couldn’t really tell or narrate my own story. I was devastated and sad for nobody else but myself. So I picked my Laptop computer and I started to construct vague sentences using the word application. Before I could take a break to peruse what I had written so far, I was five thousand words deep in the story of a man who didn’t exist.
I tried hard to keep up the pace and in less than two years I had written three books. Two of these books were so unique that a publisher of repute went for them firsthand. I guess it’s not every day that an author infuses Philosophy into an African tale of a man who doesn’t exist. I knew once that achievement is a measure of problems encountered and how many of these problems one has been able to solve. It was a huge achievement to have written three books in less than two years. Not only that, two of the books were prefaced by renowned professors and scholars while the very first of the trio got a government recommendation to be used in the Basic Education Scheme.
In spite of my achievement, my major problem was yet to be solved and I was still very perturbed about life. I was struggling through writing my fourth book when my Laptop computer crashed making me to lose about fifteen thousand words of my unfinished script. I felt all alone even when I had family and friends around. My life wasn’t as beautiful as it ought to be for a successful author only twenty-two years old. In other words, nothing really changed and I never understood life until she came along.
The first day we met, she was in a black skirt and she had a clean old cartoon blouse on. She had a characteristic smile that words can’t describe and her conduct was way too wholesome beyond the corridors of discipline. Her demeanor as I judged must be birthed from something beyond the immediate comprehension of men. Her eyes had the same brown spot in them as they still do till today. Her hair had an uncommon dark glow and her legs were as beautiful as the rising of the sun. She was consciously shy in the exchange of her pleasantries when my best friend introduced her to me as his younger sister. But since I knew she wasn’t, I made a huge joke out of the bluff. As we all headed straight towards the restaurant door, we passed one or two glances at each other while we talked randomly about several unrelated subjects. But each time I had a chance to look straight into her angelic eyes, she dodged my glance to avoid looking straight into my meticulous stare.
We sat at a square corner white table that had a cozy chair at every edge of it. The armrests of the plastic chairs were carved in an amusing way. This left me with the feeling of being seated in a rocking chair whose base was stuck into a hard floor. We ordered the same native meal of pounded yam, squashed vegetable and grounded melon with a pinch of redness. The food smelt good and so did the restaurant. The waiter was neatly dressed in a polo shirt and he wore a dark colored baseball cap. He was an acquaintance so I greeted him warmly as he left the table after serving us three bottles of chilled malt drink alongside with our lunch, for it was past midday already. While my friend devoured his food not mindful that his supposed little sister wasn’t eating, I sat terrified as I stared into her tempting and welcoming eyes. At the risk of repetition, she wasn’t eating and from the look on her baby face she was disgusted by something I couldn’t quite lay my hands on. This I could tell from the way her eyes kept hovering around as though she was trying to check out a new habitation. As for my friend, he was and I bet he still is a great guy but just like you and I, he has issues. Issues like attentiveness, sensitivity and observation. His character was like a round stone falling from an uphill this very day. So he couldn’t help his unconscious exhibition of whom and what he was.
I do not believe in the orchestrations of the Fates and I am not a huge fan of superstition. Providence or not, I knew that moment was divinely ordained and everything that transpired in less than an hour onwards must have been written long before she and I played our varying roles on the stage of life. “Why are you not eating?” I asked in a very soft tone. “Nothing”, was the timid response a cheerful voice rendered. I didn’t see her lips move but there was a radiant smile on her round face when she threw this question at me, “why are you not eating too?” Of course, I wasn’t expecting her to ask me the same question I had asked her but without much of a thought I simply said, “It’s because you are not eating.” Judging from what followed after I had told her I was not eating because she was not eating too, I must have said something other than the aforementioned and there must have been a pronounced in-congruence in my articulation of words and my manner of approach. I remember that laughter. It’s the kind that you portray with a hand covering your mouth so that whoever is watching would understand that something is really going down. She laughed politely and I was both shocked and embarrassed. Did I say or do something wrong? I haven’t spilled my drink on the table; I am yet to touch my food so I couldn’t have stained my crisp apparel with a bolus of food. Then what in the world could it be, my heart pondered.
As I lingered in thoughts, my friend not minding what was happening between his invented younger sister and I continued to pay a focused attention to his food. He had ordered four wraps of pounded yam and at this juncture, he was half way through with the second wrap. “I am very famished but I won’t touch my food until you start eating yours”, I said this to her in the most sincere way and she asked if I meant what I said. Without mincing words, I told her I meant every word. Then she looked straight into my eyes with no timorousness and I knew once and for all that she had the loveliest eyes I had ever seen. She smiled again but this time around, I had a glimpse of her amazing set of teeth. They were shining white and they connected her upper jaw to her lower jaw in a fashioned way. Her nose must have tingled as she kept smiling. She immediately reached for it with her left hand. She rubbed slightly on her nose with her left thumb and left index finger. Her fingernails were neatly trimmed such that the deposits of keratin which they inevitably portrayed were yet to shoot out excessively.
Cupid is not only blindfolded to reason, he is also childish and ill mannered in his ways. His gimmicks are not easily understood and his indignation towards we men is not utterly known. Most tales portray that he is cheerful and that he is solely responsible for wounding many a heart with his mystical arrows. Many of these arrows are targeted at his vulnerable victims who fall victim and so deeply in love. I have heard it before but I have never been so sure of it until the moment I experienced it. There are no more than twelve musical keys yet the combinations of these twelve give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard. According to theoretical physics, amidst these infinite melodious arrays there is a specific combination of sounds that increases the rate of the heartbeat. Up until this moment at this time and in this place, I thought I would be in an opera listening to a velvety composition when I would experience this much anticipated epiphany. Little did I know, a simple collocation of four words posing a question to me, would do the trick.
As I kept staring around the restaurant like a child who had lost his way, my eyes caught a glimpse of the same four walls, the unchanged ceiling and the same tiled floor of the restaurant I had been to more times than I could remember. There was no object of attraction and there wasn’t a scintillating array of beautiful ladies having a time out at a corner table. The windows were opened and the beige dust sprinkled curtains were drawn. I could hear the buzzing sound of the ceiling fans as they rotated at a tormenting speed. I was still wondering about the dull but chattering cluster of twos, threes and fours seated haphazardly in the restaurant when all of a sudden I heard a sound. My auricles must have picked the waves of the sound faster than they had been doing since I had had them. As a matter of fact, I didn’t know where the sound came from and I couldn’t figure what it meant. If ever my eardrums vibrated upon receiving this sound signal, they did almost unnoticed. But one thing was clear and two things were obvious, my heart skipped a beat and I knew that at once.
I tried to recuperate from my illusion of the restaurant room being a dull haven for victims of happenstance immediately I heard that sound but, I was still lost. Then my best friend tapped me with his left hand holding a piece of cutlery in his right hand and spoke after an overdue silence on his part. He was through with his third wrap of pounded yam and I bet he had his eyes on the fourth before he thought of intervening and rescuing me from my new found maelstrom. “She asked you a question”, were the words of my best friend. “She did? Oh I’m sorry. I didn’t quite pick her words”, was my response to my friend’s abrupt statement. And this I gave looking in her direction. “Are you not eating?” She asked again with a charming smile that made her lips separate as though they were in need of a kiss. “Sure, I’m going to eat so long you’ve started to eat”, was what I told her in my best attitude. And again in the flash of a moment, we smiled at each other again. There was an upsurge of goodness within me and for the briefest of moments; my heart was a soothing place for an unearned euphoria.
We continued to eat in a pervading silence but every now and then, I and my best friend’s supposed younger sister passed glances at each other. I am not sure if my best friend took his time to latch on what was going on. But if ever he did, then he must have understood that I tripped and she fell. Though there wasn’t an acute base to call it love but premising on mutual understanding marking out consenting boundaries, she and I shared what was like a free gift from above. Suffice to say, that day could have been the first day of the rest of my life.
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Many thanks Ezekiel, I got that...
Shola, I really enjoyed this piece. It read really well, but why have you decided to keep us in suspence? You know we would certainly be curious to know how the story ended. I guess....