Silver Patch II

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Wax Prints

But women can put men in a net too.

Yeah they can, I mean we all can put whoever in whatever net we please..

Yeah, so I wonder why the story is so gender biased then…

That’s how we’re wired. We’re taught to think that way, I guess. I wonder if there are any stories in our society that paint vulnerability or compromise or suffering masculine…they’re all conveniently painted feminine, and I think this also puts some kind of pressure on men because they aren’t themselves. I imagine they go through the worst situations cos all this pressure makes it hard to be a man, I mean they’re human first before their sex comes into the conversation,..but I digress…

Yeah, I get you. I need to go though, we’ll talk later.

I could sense the irritation in Bibi’s voice. Her unnecessarily dry tone and the way she asserted the thought that men alone didn’t have the exclusive right of placing women in nets. We all can do it. She emphasized. You know I can put him in a net too right?!  I can get complacent too! Her voice broke and I knew she was probably already teary. I was wide awake now. Maybe the awfully cold analogy had triggered a nerve. Maybe she hated the depiction of vulnerability that came with the story. I’d gone and said the wrong thing with my big mouth. I wondered if this analogy had been the right move. I doubt Bibi considered herself some old beaten down and conquered saltwater fish. Though tense, I really couldn’t shake off the mental picture of Bibi in a net; – well she did kind of look like some creature to be quiet honest with that big head of hers. I stifled what would have been a resounding laugh.

Are you upset?

No, I just have a lot of things on my mind.

Well, I hope you keep in mind that you have the power to change your situation.

Yep, thanks, sis, I agree, goodnight.

She had hung up even before I could say goodnight back to her. I lay there looking at the ceiling and its white nothingness. I concluded that our minds were like this exact same white ceiling of nothingness. Imagine the ceiling remained unpainted for years. The colors or cobwebs that would form over the whiteness can be compared to our minds. Our cobwebs and cluttered minds fill with years and years of the reception of information. Good or bad. The information eventually determines whatever comes out of our actions and maybe lives. In retrospect, I’d heard a bunch of stories similar to the net story while growing up.

There was another one that told of a shimmery piece of fabric that wore and tore after constant use. The shimmery fabric was a person or more appropriately, a woman who had slowly and gradually lost her sheen from an abusive relationship. In the tale of the wax prints, the logic followed that the wax print would withstand the lashes of time if its owner was gracious enough to take excellent care of it. On the other hand, the wax print was destined to fade and whither if its owner forgot or worst still stuffed it in a drawer and went off in pursuit of newer print fabrics.

***

Bibi needed something, anything, and everything to distract and take her mind off the net man. She’d changed her WhatsApp display photo to an image with text that read; Starve your distractions, feed your focus. It was all too funny to react to. After the abrupt end of our last conversation, I preferred to let her be the one to come to me. I had to make sure to give her enough room to deal with whatever she was feeling. I decided I’d be kinder to her this time round. I had better have good things to say this time. No morbid fishes, no net analogies, no stupid references. I had to say something more meaningful, something more uplifting, something maybe cliché like oh everything will be just fine or something less implicating like oh give it time. I googled up ways to comfort or help a person going through a breakup. My search returned; Take walks, take up a hobby, go running. Utterly useless recommendations. The suggestions weren’t good enough.

Silver Patch I

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One hour to midnight. I’m half asleep listening to my cousin cry about her boyfriend and how she isn’t so sure she can get over him. I have good intentions. A part of me is on the phone comforting her, another part of me is asleep and yet a third part of me is very frustrated with the situation my cousin is in. The man or boy is probably fast asleep or nestled in the warmth of another woman. Not to be entirely pessimistic but flashback to a couple of years ago I thought men and women or to put it quite right, people, could stay faithful and true. Times where we could attempt to raise glasses in a grand and bubbly hope of a happily ever after. I was wrong. People were selfish quite honestly, and no amount of science or providence could explain why or how we had things in hand and still had eyes on other things. I guessed her boyfriend loved/loves her but sort of feels she’s entirely in his grip. I blamed it on complacency. He’s become complacent, I breathed into the phoneI said this in a matter of factly way.  It was midnight after all, and no one had time to spare mincing words.

He feels there’s no need to keep trying. You’re in the net hun.

What net?

The net…

I rolled to a more comfortable position and tried to help her understand what net I was speaking of.

Haven’t you heard of that analogy?

No. I rolled my eyes in disbelief. She’d never heard of that analogy. Interesting.

Well, I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.

Tell me now.

Sigh…

Grandma always spoke of a man at sea who stood aboard his vessel with impatience and a fiery determination in his eyes. He was literally and figuratively hungry for fish. Fish, any kind of fish, big or small, silvery or dirty black, scaly or scaleless. Fact is, he had to return home with a big catch. The sea was boundless and dangerous and he knew he had to take his chance because there was so much more to gain. The gain outweighed the inconvenience. The vessel rolled lifelessly on the undulating current. The man’s gaze was indifferent yet expectant. He had a dirty cup in his big chapped hands. He drank slowly out of it while keeping his eyes on the vast body of water before him. He stayed transfixed until he suddenly let go of the cup. He shook his head several times and shielded his eyes with his hands. He had to see for himself if he was actually right! Fish! Fish! Oh my God Fish! There was fish! The proof was a shiny silvery patch in the water ahead. He sped ahead and threw his net with a great fuss. The silver-gold lay right beneath the water’s surface. He waited. Held his breath and stared. In a flash, he began, tugging his catch back on board. The fish jumped and tossed and wriggled and gyrated. The man remained nonchalant. He’d gotten his catch, after all, and that was all there was to it. He’d been at sea and in pursuit of the fish for ten plus hours, he’d been stressed out and frantic, yet the fish was safely in the net and the chase was over. Mission accomplished, it was time to move on.

With love from East Africa

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Insert love eyed emoji

Crossing the Atlantic changes lives. I was less than two days in Rennes and partly stunned at my renewed sense of understanding of the word ‘overseas’. I was literally over the seas, I had traveled over the Mediterranean to this new place where 9pm still looked like 3pm and where everyone smoked and spat on the street corners. The dogs were more than the people and everyone automatically made a gurgly distinct sound in their throats when they had to pronounce the letter R.

I was in a completely different world and surrounded by very different people, ideas, food, and experiences. Everyone spoke so fast and public transport was unbelievably reliable. I stared at people on the metro and looked away when they looked back at me. Some people preferred to sit in a hunched bird-like position, huddled over their bags in a desperate bid to catch the last bits of sleep before they arrived at their destinations. Others stayed wide awake reading a paper or staring out the window. I’d come to know the tram line so well. Three more stops before we get to the University. I’d jump off energetically lest the door ram shut! On this vast college campus, I’d sometimes meet people that I felt not all that mentally in tune with. Small talk would develop into conversations, and these conversations would slowly plateau into dismal pleasantries. Later, I’d start avoiding people entirely in a frantic attempt to dissociate. Other times, I found myself in the company of people I thought were perfect! We had the same thoughts and impressions on a myriad of topics, we loved the same music, we agreed on what outfits looked good and which looked tacky. We would sit for hours on end enjoying the silence of our shared experiences.

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My class was full of Asians. I think I may have mastered the art of small talk at that point in my life. I ‘d ask the dumbest questions, like how did they make the chopstick not fall out of their grip and why they ate that many eggs. The White Americans in my class preferred to walk together in cliques. They drank wine with whatever little breaks we had in between class and maintained a close-knit group. They were here on a group travel sponsored by one of these organizations, AISEC or CIEE. My breaks were times where I had conversations with myself or someone from back home. I was lonely and mostly too cold to care for conversation or feel like I was missing out on the Asians out-of-the-world Tofu experience or the Americans’ wine drinking spree. I sat with my phone in hand on most days, close by the heater.

I had gloomy days for a while until I met Mandy. Mandy was American and she was in Université Rennes 2 through CIEE. She is originally from Kenya and full of life and laughter. She quickly became a representation of East Africa and opened my eyes to the possibilities of real life, real people, and experiences beyond the confines of Ghana. She had long black braids that came down to her waist. They were dyed scarlet at the edges and she was really tall;  about six feet and two inches and unapologetic about towering over our heads. She wore heels all the time! Heels and really short mini jupes. She wanted to get married thrice because she was unsure of the possibility of being stuck with one man for life! She was an outlier, funny and the perfect friend. Mandy reinforced the importance of travel and the acceptance and acknowledgment of different perspectives. I was Ghanaian after all and had known everything Ghanaian up until that point so meeting her was truly refreshing and very different. We went out at night in zero-degree weather and came back near morning, half asleep and holding our shoes in our hands. She lived with a host family and loved the family’s daughter Carla but hated their dog with all her might. She said the dog got hair on all her fine clothes.

Eight years after Rennes, I am still in touch with Mandy.Image-1 (4)

 

Withering Heights IV

I saw a Tee shirt on Instagram that said NAH. Rosa Parks – 1955. I was greatly impressed at how pieces of history were gradually and steadily being integrated into popular culture. Maybe I was going to get this Tee shirt and probably also attempt to help artists or visual experts work or draw inspiration from the long and bitter struggle for freedom over the years both in Africa and America for the negro….

perfect segue for talking about how reading James Baldwin had had so much of an effect on me. His Fire Next Time was brimming over with double negative structures. I mean, the most apparent reason for the excessive use of this structure was remotely tied to the admittance of the hopelessness of the nigger’s situation…

The word independence in Africa and the word integration (in America) are almost equally meaningless; that is, Europe has not yet left Africa, and black men here are not yet free – James Baldwin

It was a double negative life for me the whole week. Dinner with my Botswana people was fun…but for some reason, I couldn’t shake off the analysis of the relationship dynamics between white and black people. We’d come far and I knew people were now more sensitized and maybe exonerated of all racial bias….but then, wasn’t the subtle slave master, dominant dominee (if you like ) relationship still present somewhere? even in the most subtle way?… So this happened to me.

Previous weeks ago, I had a misunderstanding with a peer over something as basic as filling a tub with water. The peer was white and I wondered if her ‘concern’ for how I filled the tub was due to anything linked to my lack of logic or simple common sense.  I was livid. I wasn’t about to allow myself be micromanaged over something as basic as filling a tub with water.  Had post-coloniality left me sensitive to the point of extreme cynicism?

The tub of water was my no…

Withering Heights III

Does familiarity breed contempt? No. Sometimes it breeds recklessness…and that is the amount of recklessness I felt these men were demonstrating. I thought I was way past the age of being in a crowded space with wine spills and incoherent speech….not that I have a problem with the concepts of wine spilling and incoherent speech. We’ve all been there. At least at one point in our lives. But then it was more about the lax and wanton grossness of it all. These men felt they knew us. So there was no need for any type of stiff-necked civility. Which irritated me very much. I think we need to ‘try’, like just fucking try to be civil no matter how long you think you’ve known a person. I remember that night on the phone when out of the need to hear his opinion on an unrelated topic I asked; do you think men take stuff for granted when they get to know you in a more intimate way? His answer was; I think humans have the potential of taking everything for granted once they get to know you. And I guess he was right. We all do take things for granted all the time.

I thought she was weird. The main question was, is she weird or just different? And I remember frowning a lot on many occasions when after nearly two years of friendship she would still come and ask me for permission to use my stuff. Cherie, you can have it. I would say, why ask? Just take it. In retrospect, I respect the fact that she asked. I guess familiarity did not ease her into the comfort of taking boundaries and space for granted which I appreciate now.

So the men wanted to dance…and just like any human that abuses familiarity, the general unmentioned consensus was to dance regardless of if we wanted to or not. An assertive dialogue broke out over this. He thought it was about feminism, and I was just ready to explode. An implosive fit that left me in awe of how refusing to dance is tied to feminism.  I was in awe of how Feminism sounds like an accusation sometimes. Maybe I wanted to graduate this implosive fit to an explosive and exaggerated one but I knew better than to get involved with drunk pontificating men. Quite bluntly, I didn’t and don’t care much for feminism. Anything that ensures the sanity, respect and harmonious coexistence of the human race is what we all really want. I recommend everyone doing what floats their boat and if men and women choose to dance, or not dance, the recipient of that bit of info should be ok with it.

Withering Heights II

I’m up at 5am.  I sleep off until 6 and then finally jump up at 7am. I’ve been checking my notifications by the hour. 5am notification about some random reply to a comment I made on a post on Facebook, 6am notification about someone getting married on my high school group chat and 7am notification about my dwindling credit score on credit karma. This country is cursed no doubt. You want to know what’s more painful than whatever pain you think you’ve gone through? Real pain is when you think you’re about to get richer. The money hits your account but then there’s a negative balance in there so the freshly dropped bucks go to cover the old debt. How nice.

All along, I’ve been navigating this life with a clustered mind full of to-dos. My heart is in one place and my mind is in another. Society teaches us not to give a fuck. Needless to say, books are being published on the Subtle art of not giving a fuck. I’ve watched this book’s Ted Talk and decided that it was a good one. I was probably going to get the book to learn more about assertiveness and being unapologetic, protecting one’s interests and emphasizing the need to be independent minded. There’s so much busi-ness around me. People are barely finding time to wipe their bums to the extent that it gets equally easy to dispose of people who stress the hell out of us. Sometimes we feel justified in letting go. Other times we feel bad and try to reach out but then we let life kick in, we allow real responsibilities or made up responsibilities pile up, and then we forget the mental note we made to reach out and rather remind ourselves to not bother. We’re independent, loveless, strong and maybe proud. Money over mushiness.

Months ago, my childhood best friend and I had a misunderstanding over something trivial. She got upset and I decided to give her some space. I missed her along the line, took my phone on many occasions to text her but very much aware of how the act might make me look weak, I chose my busy world instead.

Today she texted me, and defenseless, I texted her back. I missed you.

Withering Heights I

I was told that I was going to get some cake with some strawberries. Strawberries with an S… I had the cake and all I literally had was a strawberry. 

I had to admit that though old, this man had a sense of humor that was both annoying and endearing at the same time. In addition to that, he made me dread being tall. What was the use of being tall when eventually, time’s winged chariot would cause our back to bend?! Almost every other tall senior I knew had a bent back. My friend’s grandmother from elementary school had a dangerous stoop that forced me to think of a tree after a storm. Branches bent, stalk bent, leaves all drooping and downward facing. It felt like time eventually taught us, tall people, a lesson or two about the kind of conceit that comes with height. We look at short people with this kind of I’m taller than you look. We strut about confidently and expect life to bow to us because we are tall. How tall are you? We are quick to fill in the blanks…and then when we meet a taller person than we are, we somehow stay on the brinks of admiration and envy. Life catches on with all of us, and the short people stay short, erect and unwavering…and then we just bend. Probably to all that conceit from earlier life. Poetic justice at best. Like big bouncy breasts that stand glorious in youth and stoop miserably low in old age. Do the smaller boobs apologize for their full mast upwardness despite the strokes of time? No. Voila la vie.

Today though, I found myself in a lighter mood. Lighter than usual. And why wouldn’t I be happier? I had this old man and the many residents who lived here to keep me in a lighter and reflective mood. The first thing I noticed when I got to this place was the ambiance. It smelt clean and had a good amount of hominess to it. The kind of homeyness that manifested itself with familiar smells. Smells that clung to one’s nostrils and remained no matter how far away one went. These were smells that stayed in the memory and heart. I doubt I was ever going to forget the smells that filled this place for a  long time to come. While cinnamon filled my nostrils, I wondered how many stories were seated in the room. The seniors looked like perched and roosting chickens. I saw old age in different manifestations; some heartwarming, and some dreadfully sad. The common denominator though was the fact that there was some kind of ominous acknowledgment of the awaiting of death. I mean, what were a bunch of almost hundred-year-olds and in some cases more than a hundred year olds waiting for? Quite bluntly, they were waiting for it. Death the leveler. It was ominous yet some of them had wholeheartedly accepted that at some point, it would come. The oldest resident questioned why God still kept her around. Hers was the kind of wait that was not altogether ominous. At her age, the only defects she had were a bad vision and bad hearing. Glorious white hair, a straight back, and a high pitched voice.  She was in better shape than others; she’d been blessed. In the land of blind people, the one-eyed man was truly king.