What you have has a name.
You are sure if you entered a bus from your house at Ajah and stopped at the general hospital at Obalenede, if you let the doctors there run their tests and flip through their big books, they’d find a suitable title for what ails you. But you would not. Because you have learnt that when a man gives a disease a name, he breathes life into it and lends it the ability to become a thing that could be like him. Or become him. You are afraid that in your case, this now named thing would cling to you, move into your flat, try on your new shoes, and begin to go with you to the bank where you work as a cashier. It would become as conspicuous as the yellow dress you wear to work on Fridays and everybody would notice and point and laugh.
You are afraid that if you name it, you would acknowledge that maybe you are a broken piece of pottery that needs fixing.
You do not remember when it started. Yours is a relationship whose beginning has no footprints, and you have gotten used to this lack of history like you would an annoying sibling. What you do now is prepare for the red flags, the little incidences that set you off: a woman leaning in towards you over the counter to hand you crisp notes, her hair smelling of talcum powder, a baby turning to flash you a dazzling smile right before you do the sign of the cross in church, a newscaster saying that the price of pampers had risen.
At one point you had taken the symptoms to Google. Google was better than doctors. Less intrusive. It did not ask if your family had a history of mental illness or whether you had been under a lot of stress lately (Both useless questions because doctors were always embarrassed to ask the former, and the latter was just plain silly, I mean, what banker is not under a lot of stress daily?)
But Google provided no solution. Perhaps the problem had been with how you typed the question. In the search area you had written:
1: is sadness a person?
2: what condition is it that makes one feel like oceans are threatening to spill through her mouth whenever she is alone?
For a long time after Google had spewed articles about ocean animals that left you the more confused you had sat staring at your laptop screen, wondering if perhaps Google was not as smart as people gave it credit for.
With time, you teach yourself to manage the storm. At nights when you feel most vulnerable, when the minions carry out their onslaught and there isn’t the armour of work to keep you safe, you whisper affirmations to yourself. You are a Christian so it is easy for you to pick from the armload of cheesy statements that fill the bible. Your favorite is from Ecclesiastes 9: 4 – a living dog is better than a dead lion. You like how you think yourself as the dog, you don’t know who the dead lion is. You would chant the verse like a prayer, wield it like a sword, till you emerge on the other side, victorious.
Other times what you mutter is the twenty-third psalm. You repeat the words over and over again, hugging your knees, your back against the wall. You repeat it till you actually find yourself beside still waters and smell the freshness of the rivers on your skin.
But there are nights this storm would refuse to be caged. It will hit against your barriers with such intensity that your affirmations would be ill-prepared to stop it. Nights when you lie awake in the spare bedroom because you got into one of your frequent fights with your neighbor who had then hurled her insult of choice: barren woman, and you needed a safe place to hide from your shame. Or the nights when your husband had used his fist to communicate his rage at your childlessness or any other of his many problems that he thinks you are the cause of. Those nights, you do not give affirmations, because words would not do. You rather reach into the recesses of your mind to that sunny place where you store happy memories. You flip through the pages: your graduation from primary school, that time you had an A in government, the time that boy in the choir smiled at you, you skip all these pages and rest on a particular one.
In it you are sixteen: too young to be carrying dead dreams around but not too old to receive seed from a man, nourish it and present him a flower.
You are lying on a hospital bed. You are tired. There is a hand in yours. Smooth, little hands. Baby hands. They are the reason that even though you feel sharp pains in between your legs from where you had just pushed out another human, you are content, proud of yourself. On your lips is the taste of joy, and it takes like nothing you’ve ever had before. It is foreign in the way a lot of things are foreign to you. You would nibble at it. Careful not to gobble it up, so there’d be some for next time.
It is this joy that you visit. The feeling you felt in that moment. It is a safe harbor where physical pains cannot break through. Where raging storms cannot reach across to place their hands on your heart. Where you feel most worthy of things you do not deserve. In that house called joy, you are everything, and everything is you.
Those nights, you are also careful not to go beyond this point. Because past it, there is another picture of you. In that one, you are two years past sixteen. Your parents are standing behind you, a scowl on their faces. The camera clicks shut as you are handing your baby to a man who in return hands you an envelope within which you would find, over the course of 8 years, a university degree, a job at a bank and a flat where you lie on cold nights with an aching heart and a resentful husband to keep you company.
What you have has a name.
Sorrow, loss, the aftertaste of longing you have on your tongue. These are not what your doctors would call them. These aren’t the names of sicknesses. You are afraid that if you submit to the doctors that they would flip through their big books and actually find a title for what ails you; a different name from the ones you have chosen. Then you would no longer be in doubt that you are unhinged. Next, the doctors would then try to find a cure, because that is what they do – find a cure for every sickness. You do not want to heal. You like sorrow’s company. It is your penance. You like looking out from your glasshouse to see the storms billowing, knowing that there is the possibility that one day it would drown you in it.