The Right to Completion

Image: Adaku Nwakanma

Eleven-year-old dreamers have the right to dawdle on their way to school, watching for cracks in the pavements without a care in the world. — Asmita Gosh

They say that misery loves company, and attention, and to be acknowledged. I often wondered about the poems and stories churned out on a daily basis by a society rife with many neglects and abuses. When will it ever be enough? And what value is art that becomes a commentary with the probability of running out of steam?

I paused when I read an article by critic and essayist Ifeoluwa Nihinlola in which he shared his thoughts on the appeal of writing about trauma. I paused because for the first time since being straddled between what stories matter and what stories generate the most traction, between the use of the English language to capture an un-English experience and its ownership by those who previously had no need for it, between the struggle to free one’s mind up to write of the beautifully mundane and to drown in one’s own trauma spitting up the remnants on the page, for the first time the opposites coalesced into one and the same thing.

Teju Cole writes about the hills in Switzerland, I am immediately transported. I have never seen snow, but through his well-crafted words on the page, I envision what it’s like to inhale air so crisp that your insides shudder a little. There’s a difference, I think, from those metaphors from colonial remnants such as “as white as snow”.

It is the same feeling I experience when I see Asiyami Gold, a girl from Abua, Rivers, execute her wanderlust so beautifully on Instagram pages, embedding her Africanness in perfectly curated white spaces. Africans think about the mundane stuff too, all of this seems to say. Africans travel too. Africans sit under the stars and observe the patterns too. And that in itself is radical compared to the constant barrage of news about poverty stricken nations and archaic leaders failing to put their countries' interests first.

I want to write about the mundane. I want to write about the sweltering heat, and how it turns bottles of water left outside the refrigerator into a sordid mess in the middle of February. About the intricacies of an acknowledging glance on the way to buy bread. About what effects the stars and constellations would have on a Nigerian girl living in Lagos. But like a child diagnosed with ADHD, the thoughts waver. A man walks towards me, his legs spread and his gait imbalanced. He whispers something in my ear that is swept away by the wind disturbed by my retreating figure. Stars disintegrate into dust settled on the arm reaching out to me for life support, and reaching in for pockets full of misery that spill and taint everything around it.

The dark, bearded man finally moves away from the chalkboard—scribbled on with different colours—to his desk in response to the signal for the beginning of break time. The class erupts and the hallways fill with children fluttering in blue and white. Nine and ten year olds have had their eyes on the white doors of the vintage cupboard propped at the front of the class, waiting for a pupil to take the necessary steps to the middle of the two-storey building where the classes were situated.

The ringing bell reminded one bright pupil of the church towers and springing flowers that signified a wedding was about to happen in the movies with white people and blonde hair. The courtyard would soon fill up with pupils clapping their hands together furiously as others without lunch boxes strolled to the canteen for snacks and ready-made food.

The teacher looks up from behind the rim of his glasses and tells a pupil to wait until the students file out completely. He takes her behind the class doors and after a minute of contemplation, asks her if she started growing hair—down there. She notices his eyes pause for a second as if considering the answer she had given him. Finally, he releases his hands from the wall which he had them planted on, and she ducks under, down the stairs, and out into the field.

The library was where she had decided to spend break time reading Enid Blyton, who she later realised was a woman rather than the man she assumed she was—and that it was Blai-ton not Blea-ton, and the thin African books she had discovered adjacent to the shelf. The bell rings again and the classes resume. The boards fill up and empty themselves over and again until pupils finally carry their empty lunch boxes down the stairs and back home. She thought about the elves with their pointed hats and why they always had to be mischievous. She badly wanted some of those books to herself and told her mother too. What she didn’t mention was the weird incident which would sit on the edge of her mind until she was ready to take it in.

Maybe it is folly to assume that trauma can survive without normalcy, or normalcy without trauma in the first place. Violence and trauma, like the calm before a storm, do not occur in a vaccum, but in the containment of normalcy and quotidian affairs.

That is the reason why perspectives are doled out to each individual that inhabits the earth, for who can cover all in her short life time? The story is only ever complete in the lived life, and even then, there is the collective story of existence to contend with. “We write these things to make our joy complete.” Where poverty and lack reign, completion is the normalcy gained from the portrayal of a person eating abacha and falling in love. In childhood relatively protected but not quite, completion is the making sense of all the stories running quietly in the background which didn’t quite fit. Where trauma and violence invade, completion is the quiet naps on Sunday afternoons and long walks to the grocery store thinking about how fine sand particles feel under the soles of the subject’s shoes. And at the end of the day, all we really have, is this right to completion, for even while we try to make this part of the universe a better place, there will—in some varying degree—always be lack.

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Adaku Nwakanma

Adaku Nwakanma

I write about digital product design.