A Bit of Pretty
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On Death, Traffic and Dreaming: An Essay

We weren’t particularly close. In fact, we’d never even met in person but I knew him well enough to mourn his loss when I heard the news. Cancer, they said. As much I wanted to, I could not cry. Somehow I could not rationalise the tears. In truth it’s illogical for any of us to think this life goes on forever. Why then does death make us so sad? All lives across time have and will continue to come to an end; this is our commonality, the great equaliser.

There is no difference between a dead great man and a dead rabid dog. It is fair to almost feel personal insult by this logic. It seems cruel that after all is said and done, this dark finality is all we have to look forward to.  What, then, is the purpose of all our triumphs and trials? Such a morbid and obscure topic, death, but one I continued to contemplate it as I drove.


**In traffic, as in life, the search for greener pastures is often futile.**


The traffic leading up the Lekki toll gate had disintegrated into chaos. The markings on the ground designating the different lanes had lost all their theoretical power. Everyone slowly inched forward, tense and on edge, each defending the space immediately in front of them like it was their own private property. I watched the scene slowly and began to understand the dangers of a linear perspective. From the ground, the options for progress are always: switch lanes as often as possible, tailgate as closely as possible or just create a new lane. So to the “sharpest driver”, there are many options.

A view from above would however tell a truer story. It would be clear to see that one lane for each toll gate will serve everyone faster than three lanes per gate. Switching lanes every five minutes doesn’t save much time either; in traffic, as in life, the search for greener pastures is often futile. We cut corners thinking we are moving ahead quicker simply because the straight path requires a little patience; patience we can ill afford  in this age of instant gratification. We are a generation used to our information in one hundred and forty characters, sharing knowledge in memes.

Daydreaming thusly, I’d gotten lost in the middle of two lanes. The cars in front of me had forced themselves ahead believing they would have higher potential for success through the toll gates. Story of my life, always one step behind. I flicked on my indicators (which in this part of the world, indicates only naïveté or over politeness) and sat listening to music sang by some guy with an overgrown beard. This time I would not fight for a space. I chose instead to pass the time by conducting a small experiment in human sociology.

How many cars would have to pass by before kindness prevailed, even if just as an after-thought, and someone let me in? The first car did not acknowledge my presence. Surely the next car would yield? Wrong; the second car almost rear ended the first. It was a female driver – I didn’t see that one coming. I expected a hairy chest to back up her testosterone-fueled aggression, instead her face was steeled by some latent anger. Could she have invented it to justify her actions or did it come before it? All this because of the possibility of my potential cut in. Why was she so angry?

The third car did the same. All these people, shoving through with hardened faces and ever hardening hearts shrouded in misplaced, internally manufactured wickedness. It occurred to me suddenly that the reason  we avoid the eyes of the people begging to be let in is because once we make eye contact, we are made quickly aware of the reality of another human soul in the other car. It’s suddenly no longer steel box against steel box. The secret pass to get into any lane in Lagos is a wink, nod or simple peace sign. By the fourth car, I’d lost interest and my mind drifted again…


**The mere fact that we exist means at some point the light within us outshone the darkness around us.**


 

For sanity’s sake I turned my reflections towards life – how icy the end is without context of the beginning. It was immediately obvious that this tangent would end in an infinite loop, a black hole of thought. Still, I went on. I once learned that every woman is born with all the eggs she will ever have in life. Half of every life begins when their mother’s ovary is formed. The other half, the sperm, have a more instantaneous nature (at least in comparison).

When two lovers through whatever means engage in the process of smashing these halves together, the half that is a sperm must go through a selection process. Two billion (more or less depending on virility) potential half versions of a person begin this journey and have to traverse through the treacherous waters to reach the egg. The parallels with my current situation did not escape me.

I tried to imagine myself as a sperm undergoing the perilous journey of pre-life. Competing in a swimming race against countless other possibilities of me. We all knew the rule. Follow your inner compass, swim till you find the glowing ball of light. We began swimming with purpose, never bothering to ask what happened after we reached this destination. All we had were rumours – and there were many. Some said it was only pitch blackness after this. In fear, they settled for the familiar comforts and clung to the guard rails of the fallopian tube. Others got side tracked by other wonders and spectacles they saw along the way. They chose comfort over truth. We were decimated by the millions. The white blood cells were ruthless in defending their territory. Soon there were less of us still swimming than we could have thought possible. We had started to doubt that inner compass and grew weary. As our numbers dwindled, so did the collective bioluminescence generated by the rumours.

To keep our faith strong, we sang songs and told ourselves stories of a new life grander, one more complex than any of us could imagine. We each now had to generate our own light and carry it within. The darkness would consume us all otherwise. The journey would take an entire lifetime…three whole days. Eventually there was just one. The road had grown quiet and dark, a battlefield laid waste. It was impossible to turn back now, I had come too far. In fearful loneliness, I could barely remember why I had kept swimming so long. I just kept going because there was nothing else to do. The 1,999,999,999 others I had started with had called me crazy, different amongst other unmentionable things. Regardless, I had pressed on, shunning popular opinion, listening to the single small driver inside that said over and over, “Keep swimming!” It’s weird that even now, I feel like I’m still competing against multiple versions of myself.


**”Love in all of us has already given us a standard of behaviour; an inherent basis of interaction.”**


The blaring of a horn jolted me back to reality. It was a couple in a red jeep. I don’t know how many cars had passed before they finally stopped. I waved and made a move for the open gap in front of them. As I did so, the red jeep jerked forward but was too late – I was in. I thought they stopped out of kindness but it was really just curiosity. They wanted to know if there was anyone in the car. How could anyone be so patient? It went against social convention to simply wait. Anyway it did not matter – I was in the flow. I worried at first that there would be nothing to learn from my experiment especially since my daydream had interrupted the count. It didn’t take long for me to realise that I was now in a position of power and I took full advantage of it. I could let people in and I did so by the drove – the beggar had quickly become the chooser. The couple that had ‘let’ me in pounded on their horn relentlessly.

My experiment had evolved and I now wanted to see how many cars I could let in before the couple gave up their tantrum. At first, many cars jumped in when they noticed the open space. They thought they were taking advantage of a ‘not so sharp’ driver. They soon realized that it was not foolishness that gave way to them but a new rule of existence. A rule of kindness. The red jeep couple’s rage only grew with time. As they powerlessly blared their horns, I began, once again to drift back into my waking dream on my single celled prelude to life.

**

Against all odds, I arrived. It was there, in front of me and even more wonderful than I had imagined. A singular egg shining in the distance. As I approached, my fears fell away. Instead I was hit by successive waves of awe – it was all true, the new afterlife, all the wonders it had to offer. My madness had been rewarded. These must have been my final thoughts as I crashed head first into the egg. In a single moment, my old life ended and a new one began. Nine months later, far too early in the morning sometime in the mid-eighties, I was born. Spanked, given a name, a system of belief, and a birth certificate, left, once again, to figure out what direction to swim in.

As I drove on, I noticed the couple behind me had stopped honking. Of all the lanes, ours seemed to have gained some semblance of peace. We were driving less urgently, yet, seemed to be moving along much quicker. Even the red jeep had started letting people in.

Could it really be that simple? All it took was one momentary example of kindness to change what seemed like a lifetime of wickedness. All without a single word exchanged. The first rule of critical mass: Everything begins at one. One different choice, one different thought, one different action.


**“Any system that can be destroyed by truth, should be.”**


We say driving in Lagos tends to make one crazy but that too is a choice. We don’t have to uphold the status quo; we should have the courage to go against it when the opportunity presents itself. The mere fact that we exist means at some point, the light within us outshone the darkness around us. We chose the voice within over the voice of a billion others. We are here because we already won. How did we forget who we were? Over time, we stopped trusting that voice and conformed to what the world gave us. Now, we pay men to tell us the truth, forgetting the power of the love that already lies within us. We continue to cheapen this awesome force by our tiny little acts of wickedness thinking judgement will come in one single flash one day in the distant future; you reap what you sow here and in the afterlife.


**Show me your dreams and I will see your truth.**


I had inadvertently circled back to death again. I imagined it to be a dream state, a place where time no longer exists and everything is in the moment. Life, powered by the creative powers of love. All of us individual expressions of love. Our collective existence is probably God’s dream state. Every life, a story where God, the infinite consciousness, is both dreamer and observer.

 Maybe then the only thing we should strive for in this life is freedom, from destructive thought patterns and ourselves perhaps. How do we achieve this? Allow love and vulnerability in because inevitably, each of us will face our end. Those that have lived in truth, swam against popular opinion, and loved with reckless abandon will continue their eternal existence in the infinite bliss of their individual heavens. Others will stay trapped in nightmares they created for themselves.

*

So, my dear brothers, Babajide, Dauda, Nnamdi, and most recently, Dapo: I pray that in your rest you only know peace, that you feel the never ending waves of love constantly renewed by the light of your warm memories. I pray you dream as you lived.

5 Comments

    • Maktubler sent in such an intriguing piece- v pleased to have it up on the blog- and to have such a positive response! It’s made my day, tbh.

      Like

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