Spring 2024

this is my body

By Olakitan Aladesuyi

Every time I try to write about this place, I lose myself to a certain kind of tremors. Say, demons twisting themselves around me and pulling every which way until I lose the words, lose the will, lose the language, to describe, to speak.

Growing up, I learnt that demons were emissaries of the devil, Èṣù ọ̀dàrà and that they entered into people when they sinned. People who then had to be exorcized. For as long as I can remember, I felt like I had demons living in me.

They were not always this grown or loud. At a time when I was much younger, they were just wires standing inches apart and whenever they touched, there was a spark and lights and a bursting forth of everything a girl shouldn’t be. Then the world saw me and the demons grew, arms, and legs, and voices. Roaming my head, screaming at me, raging in my bones, borrowing my tongue, whispering into my soul.
            Unlike the demons of my Sunday school class, these ones are not emissaries of Èṣù ọ̀dàrà. I don’t know who sent them or how they got into me but they are here. We are here.

As I write this, I am in the belly of a snake, crawling through the city that never sleeps. I am wondering about my fellow crawlers, if they have the same thoughts about their body that I have about mine. If they ever feel some kind of way about their body, about owning it too little. If they ever feel the urge to just crawl out of their skin into another or, just out of the world. If they even think about their body at all. Can they feel the sadness radiating off me? Can they see it in my eyes?
            The woman beside me is angry, I can tell from the way she keeps shooting me nasty looks and pushing against me in the tiny space. I know anger and it is not always this loud. Sometimes anger sits quietly inside your bones, boiling furiously inside you yet unable to exit through the mouth or the nose or any other part really. I know anger burning me up from dawn till dusk. I know anger sitting at the tip of my mouth.

Tonight I took pictures like I used to last year. Street photography. That’s what I called it, the click click of my phone camera every time I experienced some kind of beauty that called to my soul. Any kind of beauty that attempted to mend my soul.
            Beauty heals me. In its different forms. A chocolate complexioned boy in whose reflection I once saw heaven. Twice, actually. Grace. It heals me and I cannot describe it.
            Love. It slows me down. Quiets my demons, washes me clean and fills me up with something. What it is, I cannot say. I remember reading that love has the ability to make people whole. Or something like that.
            I shouldn’t write about love now, I’m writing about home, and my demons. Maybe I should write about love. Maybe love is one of the demons.
            I can’t wrap my head around love. Not for lack of effort. I just can’t. It’s so complex. How do you explain wanting someone so much that you want to live in their skin? How do you explain wanting to breath someone in? How do you explain the breaking that comes when he leaves like they always do?

Let’s not talk about love. I don’t know about love.
            I haven’t had time to soak in beauty this year maybe that’s why I’ve been reeling, why I’ve been breaking. I should fill my life with beauty. Stare at it all day until it quiets my demons. But where do you find beauty strong enough to mend a breaking soul?
            The city is beautiful at night. Long stretch of black water pouring into skies punctuated by ship lights and stars. It’s quiet too, not entirely so but quiet enough for the city that never sleeps. I want to crawl the city at night like I did the year before, sip on its beauty like whiskey, run my fingers through the fine wires that hold it together. I want to lose myself in the city and find myself a home on distant shores.

I get off the bus with much ado. I am carrying my sister’s box and my school bag. I don’t feel the weight. I have been feeling less and less these days. I am not complaining, it’s good for me. A nice contrast to the weight of the sea in my bones and the rage of hell in my veins. I am gradually coming out of if—this numbness. A sharp pain tugs at my left shoulder. The sea is welling up again from my bowels. I feel it coming and I’m not afraid. It’s all me. The sea. The fire. The demons.

I am alone in my apartment, listening to Brymo. Loud like I love it. It’s one of the reasons why I moved here, so I can listen to my music alone and cry alone without having to explain because, how do you explain the weight of the sea in your bones?
            How do you explain waking up to a sadness so intense you can feel yourself drowning?

I should be lonely here in this house all by myself but I’m not.
            Music has been my companion. With music I can feel everything and feel nothing all at once. In the absence of a lover, music slows me down. In the absence of beauty, music cleanses my soul. In the absence of religion, music steadies my spirit. I found God in the back of JB’s throat. She called me lover. She filled me with grace and slowed me up.
            Music is spiritual. Like love, sacred. Music is a language. A language I speak when the waves knock down my walls, when the levees flood my heart. And on nights like this, when my body sits in grief for a love still living, music is how I keep my heart going.
            Music always stays. When everyone leaves, music stays. Was it not just yesterday that this fine, bearded specimen of a man broke me into songs? I did not know of the choir sitting in my belly until he opened me up and we became an orchestra. Few months later, he left. But music stayed. The tune changed, a dirge emerged from the stands but music stayed and held me through the night, through the breaking.

I will eat cold semo this night, maybe. Tonight my body does not revolt at the thought of food so I will feed it. For nights when my body, still reeling, will reject food, reject peace, reject itself. I will feed it and bathe it so when my hands can’t find the strength to lift a morsel, I will not die.
            I don’t want to die. At least not now. Maybe tomorrow I will want to die. Maybe tomorrow I will need my mother’s face and my baby’s face to find the strength to stay alive. Maybe tomorrow I will call my cousin and pretend to be happy so my body can learn happiness again. Maybe tomorrow I will need pángolo music so my body can pretend to forget.
            But tonight, I have these words, I have darkness, and I have music.
            Tonight my body sits in remembrance of all the loves that promised me home and left. My body owns its grief tonight. It is a rite I must go through.

Sometime in 2016, my friends booked me a session with a therapist. Why, I cannot say but I went. I sat in a musty room, on an old brown couch and found the words to describe what I felt was wrong with my life. Back then, I thought something was wrong with my life, with the way it was set up.
            Now, 2019, I am seeing a specialist, a mental health specialist. He is supposed to help me figure out what is wrong and make it right. I no longer feel like something is wrong with my life. It’s not about that. This time it’s me, I am what’s wrong.

In January, I started writing a poetry collection about my body as home. I stopped writing it in May or thereabout. I couldn’t write anymore, it was too painful. What exactly was painful about the poems, I cannot say but this I know: every time I tried to write, the words came running down my face. I am staring at the last poem I wrote in that collection, staring at the faded ink where my tears dropped and I feel nothing. I remember that morning like it was yesterday. It was a Sunday morning and I was home alone at my host family’s house. I had gathered my sheets to write at the reading table. I had barely started writing when the levees broke in and flooded my bones. I don’t remember exactly where it hurt, I only remember it hurting so bad I wanted to crawl into a warm, dark hole forever.
            This thing, this not remembering is in part, the problem. How do you fight an enemy you cannot see?
            The first time I meet with this doctor, he asks, what exactly is so painful about my existence. My tongue lost the ability to paint and the sea came running through my bones.
            I try to talk and I cannot find the words. Instead, I lose myself to a certain kind of tremors originating from my stomach, running through my back, through my fingers. It’s taking over my body and spilling down my face. We cannot get much done. It’s not the right time to talk about the sea and hell and breaking and shivering and breaking and shivering and breaking into nothingness.

We end the session with a prescription and a promise. A promise to submit myself the following week, to a similar procedure. A promise to stay alive until then.
            I feel like I have been living on promises for far too long. A promise to my mother to make her proud. A promise to my father to make something out of myself. A promise to my baby to be the best aunt ever. A promise to self to rid me of these demons. I am not complaining, I love promises. They keep me alive. Not sane, just alive. When my mind sinks into the abyss of depression, these promises keep me moving through the motions of life. Wake up. Lift one leg off the bed, lift the other. Find your way to the bathroom. Clean your body. Don some clothes. Wear your happy face. Walk to the junction. Get on a motorcycle. No, don’t walk into the mouth of the oncoming trailer. No, wait until the road is clear before you walk across. No, don’t long for the sea. No, don’t long for peace outside your body, find peace in this body. No, he is not your salvation, he is not your healing, nobody is.
            No, today is not the day you die on purpose, by accident. Remember your promise, stay alive.

Olakitan lives in Lagos, Nigeria, where she works as a software developer/data analyst by day and writer at odd hours. She is currently on hiatus from working on her debut collection of everything poetic. Her fiction and poetry has appeared in African Writer, Kalahari Review, Best New African Poets 2018 Anthology, Agbowó Art, Poetica Magazine, The Naked Convos, As Equals Africa, Praxis Magazine and is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner and others. She tweets here: @kitanbelles.

Spring 2024