A PAIN THIS MUCH
You take a stroll down the street, walking slowly, yet it takes you ages to notice the new building behind the church. The roads are almost invisible, making the culverts the only difference between water and land. The street lights, off as usual, serve as sculptures more than their real purpose. Two sounds; one accompanied by the outbreak of light and another uprooting a tree behind reverberate around the vicinity. Pile of dirt having been thrown into the canal, filter out of the water and fill the entrance of the street.
You walk carefully, the only sensible thing to do in the aftermath of the rain. The smell of petrichor taking over the atmosphere: you always hated that smell. The roads are laid bare; pothole ridden, showing the amount of water it had consumed. You take a leap forward and find dry land like the children of Israel in the middle of the Red Sea but choose not to wipe your trousers as you are accustomed to. You take a turn and head for the supermarket that sells almost everything and your cap, bought for 500 Naira at the make-shift market under the bridge, bouncing against the grip of your head.
Halfway down the many identical shops, you check your pockets, to be sure of the money there. Often you marvel at the number of people housed in this estate. Two thousand? Three? Your eyes wander and spot a two-storey building housing a large crowd with bottles, cups and cigarettes, over a hundred people enclosed in a large hall: humans screaming and dancing , jumping and kissing and smooching , not bothered about the heavy rains that had ravaged the streets. You do not look at any of the windows — boxes too small to make that place well ventilated.
The walkways look so empty, like a street during elections. Even though you miss him, you are thankful that you now have to worry about many things. This was Ken, the friend who had become a brother as the years went by, not just a mere friend.
You cross to the other side to get chips and water, wishing that you finish eating something for once since the past month. The woman at the shop asks you three times, “What do you want?”
“I already told you” you shout
“Once you are ready to buy anything, you will speak out” she fires back.
You finally take off your headset and tell her what you want, waiting patiently for her to answer the boys that came ahead of you. Seconds turn into minutes and you expect your chips to be brought to you. You are about to banish the demons and go on a lengthy tirade when she comes panting with your chips and bottle water. You heave a sigh of relief and take out your anger on the chips; devouring it in no time.
“Oga, take your change o”, she says
“Keep the change; uhm, I no need am”
You stop a bike without any premonition. The distance of the bar from the bus stop can be navigated with your legs but you opt for a tricycle when the okadaman chooses to charge you extremely high. You hop into the tricycle; with the noise disguising as music blasting through the speakers serving as a companion. “The driver and the passenger are oblivious of each other’s presence” you say to yourself.
You get to the bar and request for your favourite booze; spirits or nothing. Beer is for the merry, spirits and gins are for the not too merry, you remember Ken’s famous quote every time you hang out. He was the reason the silver lining showed whenever you thought the cloud was having its moment. Happiness and Joy was like osmosis to him, he didn’t need a semi permeable membrane to make you less sad, Not that you ever wanted to be happy. Suddenly, you notice the music had stopped playing; you’ve been too busy talking to yourself and the spirit on your table to have allowed your brain tell you that.
Strange things happen every day. A famous footballer got his first contract signed on a napkin, Newton discovered gravity sitting under an apple tree and you discovered Ken’s lifeless body while searching for your USB chord.
That morning, you woke up earlier than usual, with a backlog of jobs to be done. You searched the sitting room for your chord hoping to transfer the job to your phone and send it via Whatsapp. Your search party ends in vain. Then, you thought of making use of his chord to transfer the files.
You knocked on his room without response. The door was locked; very unlike Ken. You went back to the sitting room, decided to use Xender; choosing to continue your search later. Your mind was as turbulent as the waves while you sat down to transfer. Like a soldier on a rescue mission, you knocked relentlessly on the door till you became paranoid and took the hammer; destroying the knob and cylinder along the process.
It was a moment you never expected to witness; Ken’s lifeless body on the floor with pills surrounding his laptop. You sat and put your ear on his chest expecting to hear his heart beat and him waking up to tell you, “You fell for it, drinks are on you this week”. You touched his hands and waited till his cold body sucked out the warmth of your skin and left you weak and still on the ground. Inertia caught up with you as you thought of calling the police.
You finally allowed motion prevail and reported at the station beside the library. You came back with two policemen and when the police officers asked you to accompany them, you accepted. They asked where is parents were, you kept mum as you couldn’t recollect any time he mentioned his parents in any conversation.
He was buried three days later. There was no funeral service; it was what he would have wanted. To him, the dead had no reason to be acknowledged; only the living needed that. You were more worried by how he chose to leave you and give death a chance to have the last laugh.
So you learn to hate the night and the sleep it brings along, you despise darkness thinking it will bring back your friend. All you are left with; memories that are more concrete than the ground you walk on. You shudder at the mere thought of smiling and turn every night to a time to be inebriated. The rooms refuse to remain silent as the midnight breeze blows across the window. At first, you dismiss the voice that you hear speaking words that sound like his motto: Mors certa, Hora Incerta. You see him in the plates, hear him in the songs that play from the DVD player and watch him in the movies that play on your laptop. His looming presence continues to hang around the air you breathe and the atmosphere you inhabit.
You met Ken at your lowest ebb during your university days. You had just been jilted and your grades looked like potholes; oscillating between not too bad and far from very good. You remember the day so well; your level adviser had just finished telling you how failure had become so close to renting a space in your life. In his exact words that afternoon, “Your case is so close to becoming like Job, but in your case there won’t be a turnaround”. It was final year already and his words looked closer to reality than a case of hating. When you passed through the new faculty building and stopped to charge your laptop, you never expected a charismatic guy will be there speaking glowingly about Bertrand Russell and Immanuel Kant.
You didn’t plan to be enthralled by this guy’s eloquence and critique of human culture, but like entropy; it swept you away without any warning. You loved philosophy so much but thought of it as asking too much questions in the face of many unanswered questions. He wasn’t falling to that trap, as he provided answers to issues facing us in the present.
The class would vomit all its inhabitants but leave you two. You check your wrist watch; it’s 6:30pm already. So, you head for the door, the philosopher guy walks behind you but choose to remain silent.
You break the ice and ask
“What’s your name?”
“I am Kenneth; but you can call me Ken for short”
“I am Lanre; it’s nice to meet you.”
“Are you an atheist?” you ask
“Absolutely not; we are all believers in one way or the other, I am mildly agnostic”, he responds with a grin.
“Well, I am religious but my faith is smaller than a mustard seed at the moment”, you tell him
You both let out a loud laugh as you keep walking towards the school gate. That was the day the seeds of our camaraderie were planted, it was watered by our common love for philosophy and our quest for knowledge.
That session, you performed a remarkable feat, leaving your level adviser eating back his words. You had gotten perfect GPAs for the two semesters. Ken’s influence became so strong in your life and you had your life back in your grasp.
You had both completed your studies at the university. You have accepted the painful fact that you will never be as cheerful as him and will probably need to be his friend forever. You saw his cheerfulness from the day he found out that he will be graduating with a CGPA 0.01 short of a first class degree. You couldn’t understand how he took it in his stride without a feeling of regret. Sometimes you recall the night classes and smile. He was the more attentive one, his studious nature far higher than yours. The little details never left his sight. It was the rule for him to underline almost every point in his notes.
He becomes your number one fan when he finds out you write short stories and poems. He reads, double-taps, reposts and retweets all that concerns your writing. How could you not like him?
When you decide to get an apartment and think about the choice of a roommate, the only option that comes up was the ever charismatic Ken; hoping his optimistic outlook to life casts a shadow on the life you were to begin.
You both moved into the new apartment in the state capital to escape the traffic that characterizes most areas. In Lagos, you had to have a limit of accuracy to the time you expected to spend on a journey. You had both gotten a first victory against traffic, and even though the price was exorbitant, you both agreed to take it.
The first sign that makes you really shocked at Ken, when you begin to misunderstand him, is a few weeks after you move in, when the gate-man takes a while to open the gate. He shouts in a manner you have never heard of; threatening to slap the man. The man is transfixed on the spot, choosing to remain silent to prevent any form of violence. You are spreading your clothes on the line; hoping these shouts don’t culminate in blows and kicks. You get to the gate and settle the quarrel, dragging Ken into the room. You look at his face; worried about his eyes turning red and his fists clenched. In a moment, his anger subsides. He goes to meet the gate-man and apologises. ‘I am sorry sir, he says, ‘I had a bad day at the office’. He tells you in details what transpired at the office; how his boss and his colleagues ridiculed his ideas at the board meeting, how they said it couldn’t see the light of the day.
‘Lanre, I didn’t sleep for five nights because of this’, he sobbed as he spoke.
‘Now see what those cretins are saying’
You do not know how to console him; it is the first time you will be in this position. You were always the one with problems while he had the words to comfort you. You hug him and tell him everything will work out fine.
It is three weeks to Christmas when he resigns from his job. You are surprised at the timing. You would ask him for days why he didn’t wait till the next year. Silence would be his answer asto your constant probing. You wanted to know why he took such a decision so you refuse to speak whenever he starts another discussion. You probe and probe and wonder if he will finally answer. You are scared that he will start keeping to himself. But after a few weeks, he tells you without asking. He says it all.
The secretary had told him about the plans his boss and some of his colleagues had for him, he was to be sacked five days to Christmas. It was a well hatched plan aimed at ensuring he left with nothing. She informed him and he beat them to their game. He left them all in his wake the morning he submitted his resignation letter. You cry and tell him you are sorry for probing him too much. You go out and get Bailey’s to celebrate his little victory. You play Jon Bellion and gulp the drink. You tell him not to worry about money. You assure him that he can ask for anything from you till he gets a new job.
He laughs and says, ‘I won’t need your cash, I am going to get a new job next month’
You wonder how he could be optimistic in the face of despair and why he had to say that. It was typical Ken.
True to his words, he got a new job on the sixth day of the New Year with a salary ten times better than his previous place of work. You are happy for him and can’t hide your excitement when he breaks the news to you over the phone.
He starts the new job, and for a while there is no outburst of anger or a moment of rage anymore. ‘His previous job must have been the source of his disgust’, you say to yourself.
You would be proved wrong the following week; the signs only took a break. They had been merely building up and waiting for the right time to strike. He had written on his diary; Death is for the strong, Existence is for the weak. It was not what you thought he could ever write down. So you ask him the meaning of the quote and he dismisses it and says it is a mere quote.
‘Dude, it’s not that deep, just a young man philosophising’ he answered.
This was when you ought to have taken action and forced him to visit a therapist. As long as he feigned happiness, you didn’t mind that all didn’t seem well.
His music taste changed drastically. You never knew he loved heavy metal and some hardcore rap. He listened to songs that talked about death more than they spoke about the life we lived in. When you asked him why, he would say; we knew too much about life, it should be a good thing to know what death is about. You couldn’t agree less. He was the philosopher; the one who probed more and more and sought the questions that had not been asked.
Music wasn’t the only sign that beamed its light on the impending doom. He had brought his wonderful relationship with his girlfriend to an abrupt end.
“See, Lanre the relationship don tire me, make we no deceive ourselves”
“Make we go our separate ways jare.”
“Why not tell her about everything and let her understand you?” you ask him
The thing with him was that he had custom made answers ready for any question you asked, clearing your doubts with his words was a job he excelled at. You were enthralled as usual without any need to ask further.
The signs kept coming, like a torrential rain that had been waiting to come down. One day, He refused to come out for drinks citing personal issues. You lost your patience and told him “We are both going out to relax”
“Not today, not today”
“You can’t stay at home alone, we need to hang out.”
“I need time to be alone bro”
For the first time, Ken yells at you, threatening to make you lifeless if you didn’t respect his decision. This was it; you needed to avoid his anger like a plague. One who rarely gets agree releases his anger like a hurricane, you thought. He would come back to apologize to you when you return
“I am sorry, I shouldn’t have blurted out like that”
“It’s okay, I am not angry” you reply
“A quarrel among friends shouldn’t last beyond a while” he quipped.
You are irritating yourself a lot these days. When you are at the office, you feel dizzy and stressed. You get home and can’t sleep. Your work suffers as a result; backlog of projects yet to be completed and dissatisfied customers bugging your phones with series of complaints. You do not fill your diary as you used to.
Your entire body is hit with the pain you felt the moment you saw his lifeless body; the feeling of emptiness that overwhelmed you and the guilt that you could have prevented his death. You want to tell him: “I am sorry, I didn’t respond to the signs you were showing to me, I wish this didn’t happen.”
On the three hundred and sixty fifth day after his death, you post a tribute on your blog, an avalanche of comments flood your post telling you to visit a therapist. You know that they mean well for you, except that the only therapist capable of freeing you from this burden of emptiness is not alive.
That night, you sleep earlier than usual even without a sleeping pill coming to your aid. You see Ken screaming at the top of his voice that he’s just won you one more time on FIFA, you want to scream Ojoro but his chants of victory already overshadow your faint voice. The room is electrified as usual and he shouts; Drinks are on you tonight. You get inside to get dressed so you can both head to the bar. You return but can’t find him on the chair anymore. He comes from behind and says; you fell for it once again. Just as you laugh at his prank, he says this time with a voice full of remorse; “All the gods, all the heavens and all the hells are within you.”
These days, you keep trying to write a short story about your dear friend; about the nature of his life and some interpretation on how a life lived so happily was bound to end in tragedy. You have not been able to type out ten coherent sentences. You have since accepted that it won’t be easy to summarize a wonderful life in five thousand words or less.