Some Time in 2020.
It’s 11:30pm on a Tuesday night in a city in the south-western part of Nigeria and I’m conversing with a friend.
“What are you afraid of?” she asks.
I avoid giving an answer to her question by cracking a nonsensical joke about me being Igbo and unafraid of anything. “Ébubé diké!” I claim.
The call ends as our previous calls have, without any indication that there will be another call between us in the future. But the question persists in my head: “What are you afraid of?”
Some Time in 1996.
It’s 04:00am on a Tuesday night. I’m a kid. I wake up from a nightmare. I have been having similar dreams for nights in a row: indescribable monsters at the back of our three-bedroom apartment; night after night, they chase me, roaring; they scare me in ways I cannot describe. Night after night, I protest to be allowed to stay up a bit longer, just a bit longer, “I don’t want to sleep now!” Evening after evening, I dread nightfall, I dread the darkness that will come when the lights go out at bedtime, I dread sleep.
But this night is different.
The monsters chased me and I ran from them. And then I stopped running. I turned to face them. They roared but I shouted back. I shouted them down and then I marched towards them. They paused in their pursuit and then they began to retreat. They retreated and eventually receded into the nothingness that ushered in my waking from sleep. Awake, I’m ecstatic with a feeling that I cannot quite articulate – maybe it is the feeling you get when your subconscious registers that you will not stay afraid of anything ever again.
What have I learned after three years in this city, living and working and interacting? I have come to an understanding that what will be is ultimately not in my power to control – emphasis being on ‘ultimately’ – but what I do is. There will be pleasant journeys, pleasant circumstances and pleasant outcomes; I will enjoy them! But there will also be rough journeys, scary circumstances and uncertain outcomes. For these, I have relearned what I learned on that night in 1996: don’t stay afraid, don’t stop dreaming, move forward! Our world is constantly changing and demanding more. We will of course need to evolve to meet emerging demands but we will also need to know what our deepest values, visions and goals are and we will need to strike a healthy balance. The Universe it is who ultimately decides what becomes of each of us (and our efforts) while we are here and what stories will be told of us long after we are here (if we are even remembered that long).
But then, after my thoughts have done their circuit, I begin to wonder on the actual, present context of my friend’s question. And then I become somewhat afraid that I am unable – or, truthfully put, I am unwilling – to give her an honest answer. But that is a story for another day, I guess.
This is a work of fiction.
Photo by Melanie Wasser on Unsplash