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The Memoir Of A Crawling Writer by Ola W. Halim [Episode 1]




It's a harsh January morning. The winds whoosh against your window in whirls. You wake tired and angry with yourself and everyone else again. You think this is because it's been a while you wrote. Work - some activity you strive to understand why you're into it, despite the heartwarming pay; something you've contemplated quitting at your darkest moments - steals more than seven hours of your day. Then family. They seem to want you every moment, seem not to understand that asking for silence and space to write isn't asking them to please go to hell and don't bother showing their fucking face ever again. Friends are worse. They come in thickets, like a thousand dewdrops dotting cocoyam leaves, and they talk things they think turn you on most - things which actually irk the marrow out of your body. 

Nobody understands you need six silent hours of the too-insufficient twenty four hours you're being starved with everyday, to write. Each time you try to explain, they make out avenues to understanding how crazy you are, how desperately you want to ditch them, how enigmatic you're deliberately making yourself. Some days you lock yourself in your room to brainstorm new ideas and they shuffle up your door and knock. You open, because you hate to be.labelled a snub. Other days you're arrogant enough not to open, they call your phone. And it's hard turning off your phone. Because it means turning the knob of your guilt until the wick is a jagged tongue of fire, burning slowly and perpetually. It establishes you - in your head, anyway - as the snub you hate being seen as. It makes you feel you're locking people out of your life, people who'd be there when you become depressed again, who'd explain from a thousand perspectives why you need to be happy. It pulls your veins tight, achingly tight, but you don't turn off your phone. Because you too hate being locked out. 

You try to shove these thoughts aside now. You shuffle to the window, peek through a broken pane. The compound is quiet and empty, except for the whooshing sounds and carpets of yellow leaves all over the ground. Nobody's around. Mum has gone to work. Siblings have gone to school. The neighbours - many of who talk ceaselessly, like running taps - have gone one way or the other. So you come out to brush up. Rush through breakfast. Cold chocolate drink and rock-textured bread with tiny orange polka-dots. Then you sneak into your Writing Room. 

As usual, you stare at the medical instruments scattered about the table. You wonder why you like them like this. Maybe the smells. Or the way you've got accustomed to picking up one of them as you write and stroke. Maybe you'd understand less as you try to understand. You prepare the table by placing the scissors inside the plates. The bottles of methylated spirit and izal and cicatrin along the edges. Every other thing to the right. 

Then you get out your writing materials. The manuscript of ECLIPSES. A black pen, half-chopped at its lid. Cuttings of character profiles. Your jotter. 

You're to begin and finish Chapter Twenty-three today. You summarise it in your head: Otono brings a new member to the Family and Dr Odeniye expels him and five others and tries in vain afterwards to seal up his fear and uncertainty. Then you pick up your pen, close your eyes to visualise Dr Odeniye again, and begin to write. 

But nothing flows like naturally. 

You strike your opening sentence five times. 

You try to chat with Dr Odeniye, ask him some questions that'd set his head ablaze, tell him the millionth time that you hate him. But he doesn't even respond. 

Otono too stares as blankly. You don't even know, suddenly, how he looks like, if his tattoo is on his forehead or one of his temples. You rip out the page. Fury crawls under your skin and licks through your bloodstream. 



You hold yourself tight in your hands, to tame it. You can't afford to let this anger enclose you. Your anger is always wild, yielding to rash impulses, bursting out irrational actions moments before thinking them. Then the anger drifts away, minutes later, and leaves a residue of enduring sadness and despair. At this stage, every strand of optimism you've sweated to hold up melts, and you do even more irrational things. You'd set ECLIPSES ablaze during this emotional trance last year, and had silently nursed sour regrets for months - which, sometimes, you still do. 

You mustn't destroy ECLIPSES again. 

It isn't a promise. 

Not a vow. 

It's a stand. 

So you put your writing materials into place and leave the room. You walk up and down the road twice, suppressing the burns, trying to imagine yourself as the orange seller by the roadside, dressed in that sun-bleached ankara, forcing a smile across harmattan-cracked lips whenever a pedestrian says sorry, she doesn't want oranges. You see the man on the billboard in you - a large, avocado-shaped face, laughing so hard the teeth could be counted; you imagine yourself doing this for a confectionery industry, and meaning it. 

You smile. 

A girl is trying to flag down a taxi. She's wearing large sunglasses. Her lips curve into a crescent - a smile - and you ache to know what she's thinking. You smile broader. Because it doesn't matter what she's thinking. 

What matters is being her. Having her in your head while you draft your next female character: a receptionist whose duty is to smile, even at the man who ignores her and stomps right into the first office by his right. 

You cross to the other side of the road when she finally secures a taxi. You're going to Mercy's shop. To look into her eyes and say nothing. This time you're not going to bore her with your emotional issues, writers' wahala - as she calls them - because she might be as tired as you are. 

You meet her mum there instead. You steel yourself against the drama that'd follow. 

Ola, when you go come pay Mercy bride price? 

My daughter no go fit marry Yoruba boy sha o; their medicine too strong. 

Mercy no dey listen to me again. Abeg help me tell am make she go loose that stupid head wey she plait. You know say na only you she dey hear. 

But today, the woman doesn't seem to have your time. And strangely, it makes you feel like a candy tossed into the ditch. A woman with a nose the shape of a triangle is sprawling on the floor, crying. She's talking about her son whom she spent 300,000 naira on, to cross over to Italy. But now, he's let himself to be repatriated home, right from Libya, without remembering how she'd hustled for that money. He's killed her. Made her a laughing stock. How's she going to start paying the money now, let alone the interests? 

You're listening. A blurred image of the boy is taking form in your head. A Rasta-looking young man who wears a stamping earring and carries the stage persona of Soulja Boy. 

But you're not thinking about his journey. Neither all he's gone through in Agadez. 

You're thinking of his love life. Maybe a girlfriend back here in Nigeria. Someone he's promised to return to, rich and made. 

A girl who'd dream throwing bundles of naira notes from a Lamborghini. 

Who'd be delivered of her children in Atlanta. 

A girl who can't believe all her dreams have sunk too deep into the fourteenth earth. 

You leave. Almost bumps into Mercy. You don't mutter sorry. You don't even stop. The two characters roam the walls of your imagination already. As well as shards of their story. 

The boy impregnated the girl before travelling. Promised to return with everything the girl had even bitten her lips for. 

But now, the girl's denying him. She's saying he's not the father of her child. 

Good. But could be better. 

You storm your Writing Room and draft characters and settings. You toy with a variety of plot patterns. 

You go to your Writing Playlist. Emeli Sande's "Read all About It" shuffles in first. 

You decide to use the boy's eye to tell your story. Patch up plot holes. Easy. You can't even believe it. 

Chatting with the boy is easy too. You catch him in a Bet9ja office and as you talk about illegal immigration, love and the future, he stutters over few words, throws impatient glances around, shrugs. You're hardly done when he flies back to the counter to argue and predict. 

You find the girl - Omono, that's what she's called - feeding her mother's hens in the compound. She's a simple, innocent village girl. Wearing a scarf over her ears. Smelling of dried cassava flakes. Looking away too often and smiling. Covering her face with her palms whenever you talk about her boyfriend. 

You draft the plot eighteen minutes later. 

When Mum and Siblings return early in the evening, you say welcome with a smile, and they look surprised. 

What's changed your mood? The question hangs in the air. But they don't ask. 

Only Grannie understands. She says you've begun to write again. You kiss her cheek. 

Later at night, you tell her the story. And, as always, she magnifies its realism by asking God to punish the girl for denying a man of his son - how she makes it up that it's going to be a son takes you aback - because he doesn't return with money.