Why are you here?

“So many things are changing, I’m in a world that’s breaking my heart.”

***

I couldn’t have spoken sooner when I confirmed that I’m always in my feelings. I’ve been deeply affected by my recent experiences. Circumstance-altering things happened in the space of a few weeks and of course, I didn’t know what to do about it. I had to tell myself to try and deal with them one at a time. Though that was difficult as well – because they all seemed to affect each other, even though they occurred in independently of each other.

I’ll tell a story.

The Recipe – SiR

Things were going well for her. It seemed, for the first time in a long time, that she was truly happy. From the bottom up. She endeavoured to be as descriptive as possible when people asked her what was going so well. She wasn’t good at that but she tried nonetheless.

Someone had crept in and was warming up her heart, slowly. They really had crept in. Bliss was new to her. The reciprocity she had always spoken about seemed to be knocking on her door. So she allowed herself to hope after a month or so. Not to close her eyes, but to squint them every now and then, to turn reality into the potential to be happy with someone for any given time. She had already spent so much time being happy by herself – she figured it was okay to leave space for someone else.

Late night conversations took away her me-time but that was okay because this was new. It was nice.

She knew she found it hard to express emotion even though she felt a lot of it. I can write it down and I can say it to myself. She would say. But when it comes to expressing it to people, I stumble over my words. I feel self-conscious and embarrassed to be honest.

She told him that vulnerability and intimacy were mountains she was still climbing. She recognised that it was one thing to be vulnerable around yourself and God. And it was another to do it around someone who you’d like to hide your flaws from. But shouldn’t it have been easier around someone who said you could take as long as you needed to do it?

When she felt her heart telling her to be brave, she expressed herself to him. And that’s when she learnt that reciprocity doesn’t mean anything. She didn’t know it was fleeting until it was over.

That Was Then – Lalah Hathaway

What was happening anyway? She would spend the next month wondering if her words cut so deep, and if her admittance of struggling to be open made them heavier than she intended. Could she travel to the past and convince herself against bravery?

Meanwhile, she was moved from one store to another, making the same things every day, speaking to the same people, and wondering if this was worth it for what she was getting paid. There was a job offer waiting in her inbox and she didn’t know what to do about it. Was she ready to face the real world? She knew her occupation was a result of running. So was this God telling her to stop being so scared?

The other store was good. She wished she had been there all along. But finally, she was told to accept the new job offer and she was happy for the advice because more than anything, she needed someone to tell her what to do. She didn’t know anymore. She worked there for three days.

And on the last day, a Thursday, she locked up. She played her music loud and allowed herself to get stuck in wondering again – was what she said that bad? Why was their last conversation so dismissive? Hurt. That word rang through her head every day. Was she that bad?

She closed the store at 6 o’clock. And she remembered how she’d done the same thing exactly two years ago in the same spot, as life pulled her in different directions then too. Was God telling her this was the last time, for real, this time? He prompted her to wonder exactly why she was there. Was fear ever a good excuse? It felt so circular, so symbolic.

She walked by the Thames and found a bench. Shortly after she shed tears, Just Like Water, Victory, Mr Intentional, I Gotta Find Peace of Mind, That Was Then. They played from her heart. She wrote Hoax and went home feeling lighter yet more realised – now there was even more to think about, and she didn’t have the strength for it. She was meant to start her new job next week.

On Sunday she walked from Angel to Moorgate. She had been aiming for London Bridge. She boarded a bus when her feet grew tired and cried at the top, at the front, just like she did when she was in school. So many tears came from an overwhelming feeling of stagnancy. Are you telling me nothing has changed? She thought to herself. Five years later… more tears fell. It was overwhelm at the thought of everything. In the background she heard, …please help me forget about him. He takes all my energy, trapped in my memories, constantly holding me, constantly holding me. I need to tell you all the pain he’s caused...

She believes in life. And she believes that what you believe in can hurt you. Yet she couldn’t get past the fact that someone had hurt her. People never really hurt her. How did he get through? She told herself that she’d never let herself down again.

Now she is writing poems that no one will ever see. It’s too vulnerable for me. Shame holds her back as she tries to convince herself that feeling hurt is nothing to be ashamed of. So she keeps on wondering how she is so affected by it all.

On Your Own – Lalah Hathaway

At her new desk she writes thoughts and lines and verses. She looks out of windows wondering how life is allowed to move so fast. She aims to be patient with herself every time he slips into her mind. She begs her memories to let her go, ease her pain.

The rollercoaster that life is will not let her off, yet she is comforted by the fact that her friends and family are on it with her, albeit screaming because of their own fears.

She heard things will look up and she wants to believe this, despite knowing the clocks went backwards today and this is only autumn.

The season is changing, and so is she. It’s a painful change but she appreciates that change is never bliss. She’ll hold on.


I’m anxious about sharing this But I would like to be more open in my own right. I hope you understood.

Get out your feelings

I sat down and considered that maybe there wasn’t too much going on. Maybe I was lost in the ripples and waves miles away from where the rock hit the water. Thoughts relating to what I had to do mixed with immediate responsibilities and couldn’t see things as clearly as I wanted to. Either that, or I just coudn’t handle the heat like other people. It would be a sad realisation to come to… finding that you’re weaker than others. At the same time, I had told myself and that being strong was overrated. I was weak. In God I found my strength. But I couldn’t extricate that from my definition of a cop-out.

This alone shows how lost I get in these waves.

How do you stay grounded? Does anyone ever remain focused? How do you put your head down for two hours without worrying that you may not make it to the end, distraction-free? How do you shut off that overwhelm of emotion? It distracts me. I could link it to my cycles, the things I’ve learnt to accept as part of who I am as Adefela. But I found that in delving into myself through a pen for years and years, I’m unable to swim up from the depths of wondering. I used to feel two centimetres above the ground but now I just want to breathe fresh air again.

The deep blue sea can be so beautiful yet so dark. And after a while the sun stops cutting though those waves. I can sink further into the unknown, past liminal spaces and straight into that unexplored 90%. There, I’m faced with creatures I didn’t even know existed. I couldn’t describe to you what they looked like, I would struggle just as much to explain the colour red to someone who has never seen before.

How do you come up for air? What creatures of thought do you face? I will never be able to picture them fully because I know they are exclusive to you. But I’m with you in understanding that they can be so scary and unrecognisable in comparison to the problems you escaped at the foot of the shore. 

What happened next?

-ther

We are different yet somehow the same, predictable while completely unknown, we see ourselves in each other despite foggy mirrors, there must be something inside that we identify with, something that calls us home in each other only to make us homesick by the time we meet, we are sick of each other with no where else to go, and those that take their own leave are grieved for a while before we focus on ourselves again, we are all so special yet extremely unsensational, our lack of individuality causing projections of inferiority toward each other, only to gather by the fire when it’s cold at night to sing togetherness to life.


Who are we to each other, and do we belong together? Who is to say what’s right and wrong when we’re replicas of each other, you, myself in the future and me, yourself from the past. And us in the present is a ball of confusion, wondering how we got here, easily forgetting that one leg was yours and the other was mine, we walked here together. And we’ll lay in bed together too, the one that we made, with our full and divided attention, and we’ll tug the cover from each other as dawn turns into dusk, opening our eyes to the foggiest silhouettes and reflections of each other, with fear and recognition hanging in the morning air.


Reading this back, I can see how it may be interpreted as a take on a toxic relationship. This is partially correct, but I would like you to scale it up. It is about the dysfunctionality of the human race – something cliche but eternally true. We have the Conservatives and the Labour party, Democrats and Rebublicans, pro-life and pro-choice, capitalists and the loosely opposing socialists and communists. Funnily enough, despite their differences, none can exist without the other. Humans disagree with eachother all the time, yet we are extremely codependent. We love and hate ourselves simultaneously. It’s like we were born with an autoimmune disease where discontent continually ferments on the inside. Yet, it is chronic and can never be fully cured, only managed. We can’t live with ourselves niether can we live without. This is interesting.

The invasion of the Capitol in DC made me think about a lot yesterday and this is one thing that came out of it. Yet, in hard times I always feel a small degree of safety, somehow. Not as if harm will never reach me, but more that there’s something inside me that will keep me truly protected. I think that’s God. I will never stop being passionate though, or unfalteringly aware of the dangers around me as I live with humans just like myself, who spew love and hate both inwards and outwards as long as there is breath in their lungs.

Can’t Wait

When I was young, my father tell me that people can be hard to love sometimes because they make mistakes. So, I tell my friend Reuben that my dream is to love a woman unconditionally – because if despite her mistakes I can still do that, she is a great woman and we are into something real.

My fiancé lived in downtown L.A for some time, a place where dreams are meant to come true – she believe that with her whole heart. That’s where I first met her. But on the phone one day she tell me that she moving back to Chicago, and she taking her L.A spirit with her. She say it’s okay because dreams come true there too; so that’s where we live since I fly over to be with her. She tell me to come to Chicago for better life, and now she keep saying she wanna spend the rest of her life here, but I don’t see it too possible. Where we live, streets are dangerous and the rich never float by.

But here in Chicago we run our lounge together and we live upstairs. We listen to music all night long. ‘It’s different to life in Cape Verde.’ she say. ‘Not better, just different.’

I don’t say no – I tell her, ‘I will give anything to watch you sing and dance in a red dress every night, for the rest of my life.’ And that’s what I get to see. But sometimes the dress is blue or green. She have a beautiful voice. And every morning, she sing:

I got something on my back that I need to get off baby,
The world’s been nuts.
Just the other day I had to reprimand a grown up.
Who am I to act this way?
But sugar, I’m the boss lady.
Busy handling, and managing…

In Cape Verde everyone around me speak more Portuguese – we hardly touch English. So, I ask her ‘What you mean by rep-ri-man?’ and she tell me “tell-off.” I nod my head. And soon, it nod to the sound of her beautiful voice. She say the song is Can’t Wait by Jill Scott. I don’t know the woman. But I get the bass guitar and learn to play the chorus and bridge:

But oh… when I get next to you baby,
(Hey)
Ain’t nobody gonna be there for me and you
I can’t wait baby
Can’t wait to be loved by you…

Jazz Lounge is successful. That’s what she name it – Jazz Lounge. She tell me it’s quirky. I don’t know what she really mean by that but I take it. She get up and coming artist to perform every night and sometimes she sing herself in the red, blue or green dress. Sometimes I play the bass guitar behind her.

But she wear the dresses less as her stomach begin to swell. Her hips move out and her face puff up – she no longer fit the dresses.

I remember when she tell me – it was in a morning full of sunshine, white sheets on the bed shining like her smile. She hold up a pregnancy test to my face saying ‘Look what you’ve done to me!’ But in a very happy way. She begin to laugh so I laugh too. I grab her and pull her into the bed. We don’t get up for three hours! She tell me she’s two months gone and didn’t even know.

And, that was only two months after I land in Chicago. I guess the first night is the one that did the job; she was looking sweet. Her eyes shine when she pick me up at MDW and see that I have on my gold chain. It was a present she gave to me when I ask her to marry me. She tell me that the rock on her finger feel so good, she have to get me something to show the world that I belong to her too. That’s what the chain represent. On the clasp she have a picture of Cape Verde engraved, to remind me of home she say.

But three months until the baby is to come, she sit me down to talk. I wonder what she could wanna talk about – she looking all serious. ‘What’s wrong, baby?’ I ask. ‘Jazz Lounge is doing good and I have my taxi job on the side – it pays me very well. What’s wrong?’ She start to reprimand me – tell me that I need to “pull my emotional weight”.

‘Since getting pregnant, I don’t feel beautiful and you’ve even said it to me less.’ She say she need affection; she hunger for it. And the hunger sit inside like pregnancy, she wanna deliver soon. I say to her it’s heart-breaking to hear that. I didn’t know. I was gonna say more but noise and shouting coming up from Jazz Lounge stop me. See, we were upstairs and guests were down. I race down the stairs, tell her to wait in the bedroom in case of danger. I love her too much to get hurt.

When I get downstairs I see a man in black, standing by the bar. He have a mask on his face and gun in his hand, and fear seeps into my body and soul. I ask what he want with my hands in the air. I say ‘Tell me what you want, and I will give it to you. Just don’t harm anybody.’ He tell me to empty the till of all the cash and fill up the bag he chuck in my direction. I obey orders and say ‘Stay calm.’ to the guests laying down on the floor, and frozen with hands up.

I walk to the till behind the bar all types of calm, hoping I don’t have to die because of a selfish man. $150 I empty from the till. Not too much anyway, but still something. That could buy my baby’s diapers. But just as I zip up the bag and drop it over the bar, my fiancé come creeping down the stairs, calling my name.

‘Don’t move.’ The gunman say to me. But my heart jump several beats. And the beats take my feet with them because before I know it, I jump over the bar towards her saying ‘Baby, go back! This man is dangerous!’ I guess she come down because of the silence after the screaming – I guess she was scared for me.

Then, the man take off his mask and stare her dead in the eye. And she stay frozen, looking right back. I stand in front of my fiancé and say to the man ‘Stay back. This is my fiancé, and she pregnant.’ His finger move to the trigger and he keep staring into her eyes.

‘That’s my baby.’ He say, he suddenly breathless.

I step forward. ‘Come again?’ My fiancé grab my arm and try to pull me back.

‘Jacob.’ She talking to the man. I wonder, why did he say that’s his baby and why does she know his name?

I try to not expect the worst and I ask her, ‘You know this man? ‘I don’t look back as she begin to cry and Jacob begin to laugh.

‘Brother. That’s my baby. And if she won’t tell you, I will. Ask your fiancé where she was the night before you came to town.’ She start pleading him to stop from behind me but he carry on. ‘She came knocking on my door, telling me she thought that she was just late that month, but then she’d found out that she was pregnant that same morning!’ He gesturing with the gun and guests start to stir. Now my fiancé trying to get past me but I hold her back. I shake just a bit.

Then, he say ‘She broke things off with me because her “fiancé was coming; she loves him more and he’ll be a better father than me.” Then she said I’ll never see the baby. So if you’re mad enough, you’ll raise it. Just know the baby’s not yours.’

My ears are hot and I want him to leave. My fiancé is wailing in the background saying ‘Jacob please!’, and my rage throw me to the man, I wanna go for his neck. He point the gun downward then step forward and say ‘I gave you one instruction. Don’t move.’

My fiancé leap back and scream as he pull the trigger. The bullet go straight into my thigh. She scream some more when I holler and collapse, and pain shoot down my leg like wildfire. Frantic, he bend to grab the money bag next to me and yank my gold chain from my neck. Through my pain I hear him say ‘She took something from me so I’m taking something from her.’ He back out of Jazz Lounge, gun pointing at us all.

My fiancé kneel down to me scream-crying, and guests rush over to us to see. I can’t say much through the pain, but I tell her it will be okay. ‘Call an ambulance!’ She scream. I let my eyes close but she tell me to keep them open to show I’m really okay. I rest my head on her swollen belly and she say ‘I’m so sorry. I’m so, so, so sorry. It didn’t mean anything, I should have told you, but I didn’t want you to leave me. You take so much care of me that it feels like nothing went wrong. Forget what I said about affection, I was being ungrateful. You’re all I want…’

She cry more tears and say more words as I pass out, everything fade to black.

And, she cry more when they remove the bullet from my thigh, and even more when I am able to walk again. She cry when I say I forgive her and she cry when the baby girl is born. And I know she will cry on our wedding day. She thank me for forgiving her. She say there’s no one for me but her and she buy me another gold chain.

You see, I tell you before: she have the L.A spirit, and L.A is a place where dreams are meant to come true. She rub off on me. 

Grass is greener

I heard the grass was greener on the other side so I gathered myself and got over there.

Truly, it was. I could breathe deeper and feel more: the waxy coat of green on every cell of my skin, inside and out, a breeze that was the softest I’d ever felt, a true gift from God – rotating small hexagonal sun rays from the sky and warming my being. There was no need to chase it for it was weak enough to not move me and strong enough to make me want to stay. 

So I did.

With my body stretched across the greenery I thought about how sad the other side was. There remained no desire to dwell there – I’d found joy elsewhere. The grass was greener on the other side.

That was, until I found that the sides were on different planes of the world. Some have summer in August and others in January. From this side I witnessed the blooming of blades where I’d abandoned discomfort as the roots beneath me shrivelled to a tone of beige; dull and lifeless.

Hives of dissatisfaction birthed on the skin that those blades once healed and I itched them to no avail. Some scars will never fade, I realised. Things weren’t getting any better on my side – perhaps the grass is greener where I am not. 

Or perhaps – it’s only a matter of time and season until that makes a change.

Trojan Flowers

She eventually grew to love the smell of magnolia. In the past, her shower gel had been scented with the flower and a hint of coconut. The mixed scent rose in the shower’s steam but she didn’t care much for the fragrance; she knew that was artificial. She had grown accustomed to artificial scents over the years, so when it came to the real thing, she could never handle it.

*

Her name was Serena, and if anyone should be known to have had life in their bones, it was her. She wondered if all the boys who approached her had agreed between themselves, to say the name Serena reminded them of the word serene; they had always said her name was beautiful because of that. But it was difficult for Serena to accept it as a compliment, because she didn’t embody serenity.

That’s what she once said to her therapist Teresa. ‘I feel like I should change my name. I’m nothing like serenity. And I know that’s not my name, but that’s what it reminds people of. Wouldn’t it be better if my name spoke the truth about who I am?’

Before answering, Teresa wrote on her notepad. She used a fountain pen and Serena loved the sound it made as it slid over the paper, her handwriting leaving it’s swoopy and indelible mark. Teresa looked up and said ‘I don’t think you need to change your name Serena. I think you need to change your mindset. Why don’t you try to find some serenity?’

‘I don’t know how to do that.’

‘You know what I find serene?’ Teresa asked. She watched Serena kick off her boots and cross her legs on the plush sofa. She always did this halfway through their weekly session.

‘What?’ she folded her arms.

Teresa replied, ‘Nature… flowers. Magnolias.’

Serena scoffed, shaking her head and hiding a smile as she glanced at the window. ‘Magnolias.’

‘Magnolias.’ echoed Teresa. ‘Do you still have them growing in your garden?’

‘I do. I don’t know how to get rid of them. And no one that I’ve asked sees the point in getting rid of such “beautiful flowers”.’

*

The magnolias had appeared during a springtime in which Serena’s fridge was empty, aside from some yoghurt and hummus. She was ordering a lot of takeaway food and binge-watching a lot of television. Inside of her festered an emptiness that she couldn’t help but feel and couldn’t successfully describe. One Sunday afternoon, she laid on her sofa staring at the living room walls as daytime television droned on in the background; one leg off the sofa, and one arm behind her neck. The rest of her form splayed across the deep blue fabric of the furniture.

The corner of her eye caught a reflection of light from the garden. And looking past the garden doors, a magnolia flower stood proud amongst overgrown grass and thriving weeds. Thinking nothing of it, she settled her gaze on the blank walls of the living room. However, by the end of spring, all she could see and smell were magnolias, as multiple had grown each day.

She lived by herself and she went out often. Her nine-to-five was boring, so the weekends were her time to let loose. Sometimes she would drink more than she could handle and go home with men that showed interest in nothing but that thing. And Serena was the same – she had only wanted that thing from them too. And the next morning she would write a note saying, ‘Last night was fun, maybe we’ll bump into each other again. S. xx.’

She would call a cab and sleep comfortably into Saturday afternoon. When she woke up, Serena would look out of her window and see the magnolias growing like weeds in her garden. Their white glow illuminated her skin. Men had said her skin was luminous too, like polished mahogany. Serena didn’t know if that was a compliment. Nevertheless, the magnolias’ glow blinded her.

Her neighbours, Jake and Talie, were elderly and fond of gardening. One day they knocked on her door, ‘We were wondering how you grew so many magnolias in your garden. They’re beautiful!’ The couple exclaimed.

She was unmoved by their admiration. ‘I don’t know, they just started growing. I’m cutting them down soon because they reflect too much light.’

‘But you mustn’t get rid of such beautiful flowers.’ They said. Serena didn’t entertain the conversation for much longer. She closed the door.

Yet, the magnolias grew. Some of them had hints of pink and yellow spreading out from beneath their carpels, but that never outshone the overpowering hue of white. A few times Serena walked into the overgrown mass of her garden, carelessly chopping the flowers down with a pair of garden shears. She would tread on the fallen magnolias as she spotted more, walking over to cut those down too. Within days however, new ones arrived in multitudes, growing in their place, prouder than ever. Their citrus-honey-sweet scent seeped into her living room, through the kitchen and up the stairs, into her bathroom, and the two bedrooms in the house. She accepted at one point, that perhaps the magnolias weren’t going anywhere.

In the same breath, the men that wanted nothing but that thing from Serena soon stopped wanting it. She lost her desire for them too. She mixed her vodka with lemonade and watered down her cocktails. She went grocery shopping and wrote about it in her journal. The citrus-honey-sweet scent moved through Serena’s emptiness, pushing out all that stopped her from feeling whole.

*

‘I didn’t change my mindset.’ She said to Teresa months later. ‘But something did change. I don’t know what it was.’ It was the middle of the session and her feet were planted on Teresa’s carpet, who wrote with her fountain pen, beaming.

‘Go on.’

Serene smiled and looked out of the window. ‘Sometimes magnolias grow so big, that you can hold them in both of your hands. As you bring them up to your face they almost blind you, but it’s a good-blind. They make my skin glow, like an angel.’

‘That’s beautiful.’ Teresa laughed, and Serena laughed with her.

‘Yeah.’ Serena smiled. ‘Something like that.’